A tribute to Martin Vick

On Monday morning we received the terrible news that our friend, colleague, collaborator and fellow artist, Martin Vick, had passed away. On Saturday night he suffered a massive stroke, from which he did not recover.

Around about the time we heard of his passing, Martin would normally be arriving at Chapter Arts Centre as a member of our Hijinx Academy, greeting his friends and preparing to start the day with them. Probably the hardest thing my colleagues - Dan and Amy - and I, have ever had to do was tell our students that their friend, Martin, had passed away. It felt so final and blunt. I did not use a lot of words - maybe I should have used more, but I could not think of any other way to do it, any way to ease the shock.

Everyone reacted in their own way, some felt confused (“Martin Vick is dead?”), some understandably emotional, some pragmatic and philosophical. Everyone supported each other in those initial moments of shock at the news. Then gradually we came round to thinking about what Martin had meant to all of us.

This is a reflection on some of what was said during that session, along with some of my own memories of my good friend:

The Gag’s, oh my, the gags. Martin would delight in a gag, any trip, or prat fall was always succeeded by “it’s a gag, innit, a gag”, with a huge grin. When Denni and I worked with him on our first Snooks Brothers show I banned the word “gag” from our rehearsals. Anyone who said it would have to buy the other two a cerveza when we opened the show in Seville. Of course I ended up saying it more than anyone else and Martin would joyfully remind me of how many beers I owed him at every occasion. I’m pretty sure I still owe him some of those beers.

Everyone agreed that Martin’s incredible positivity was really extraordinary, and something we could all do with more of. As a colleague, the students looked up to Martin and he was both very supportive to everyone in the group and a leader by example. As a collaborator and devisor on Snooks Brothers and Meet Fred, Martin was an absolute joy to work with. His professionalism, his willingness always to jump up and try anything, throwing everything into all he did, was an example to us all.

Martin could make anyone feel at ease. For many a nervous person on their first contact with Hijinx, whether it be with Odyssey, one of our residencies, Unity Festival, or the Academy, Martin was always on hand to be the first person to say hello, offer a hand shake or more often a hug.

We spoke about his notebook, always at his side in sessions and rehearsals; his love of babies and children, and always asking after everyone’s family members; his job in Tescos and making special trips to shop in Penarth just so Martin would help you pack your bags; his addiction to Coca Cola. We spoke about how he could be a terrible flirt with the ladies too. We spoke about his flexibility and his other passion as a gymnast and instructor. I spoke about the banter we would have whenever he led a warmup, delighting in the fact that I can’t reach my toes. Some spoke about how they had known him since primary school, or been at the Special Olympics with him. We also spoke about the many roles he had played with Hijinx over the 15 years since he joined, right back to Peter Pan and Wendy in 2001 with Gaynor and Dick, up to the Snooks Brothers adventures and Meet Fred in more recent times.

What is truly flabbergasting is the amount Martin achieved in his 41 years.  He travelled the world both as a special Olympian and as a professional performer in our own productions. In his time he touched thousands upon thousands of people, both that met him and that saw him perform as a sportsman and as an actor. A few of those thousands were lucky enough to become his friends.

Without doubt Martin has changed people’s lives, he is an inspiration, and I don’t use that word lightly. One of our younger students, a student with Downs Syndrome, shared that he remembers seeing Martin on TV when he was about 2 years old, giving an interview about his appearance in the Special Olympics. For his mother, this was the moment she saw that anything could be possible for her young son. For this student, the inspiration became a friend.

I was inspired by Martin, because of what he achieved yes, but also as a fellow collaborator and artist he inspired me as an artist. In the 9 years I was lucky enough to know Martin I worked with him on many of our projects. “Delight” is probably the word I have used most in this article and is one which for me sums Martin up. It was his sense of delight which made him a delight to work with and a delight to be with. I will miss Martin as a collaborator, a contemporary, but also as a friend.

Our thoughts also turned to his mother, Chris. The successes that Martin experienced during his life were in no small part down to the help, support and belief that Chris always had in him, many times travelling far and wide to ensure Martin lived his life to the full.

We used that Monday morning session to talk in this way about a wonderful friend that we had just lost. It was raw at times and emotional, and we could not hide from it: a wonderful life had drawn to a close.

People began to speak about what Martin would have wanted, how Martin would have liked us to react to this news. Everyone felt that he would have wanted us all to remember him, with respect, but to ultimately not allow our grief for his loss to take over our lives.

Everyone deals with grief in their own way, and it’s impossible to know how it might affect you until you receive some shocking news as we did on Monday. I hope that the discussion and act of just being together on Monday helped us and our students to process our loss. I’d like to thank Dan and Amy, the Chair of our Board Mike Clark, Parent Allison Vale and Glenys Evans, for being on hand on Monday morning to help the students come to terms with this horrible news. I’d also like to thank all the Hijinx staff and tutors, Odyssey members and everyone in the Hijinx “family” for pulling together at this difficult time.

To finish I will share one of our student’s responses, a quotation paraphrased from the animation film ‘The Land Before Time’, in turn paraphrased by me here:

Let your heart guide you. It whispers so listen closely. He'll be with you. Even if you can't see him. Oh, and it's not your fault. Now, you pay attention. It is nobody's fault. The great circle of life has begun. But see, not all of us arrive together at the end. You'll always miss him. But he'll always be with you, as long as you remember the things he taught you. In a way, you'll never be apart, for you are still part of each other.

Ben Pettitt-Wade
Artistic Director, Hijinx

Here is a selection of images of Martin at work with Hijinx over the past 15 years.

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