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September 16th 2015

I am 60 years old. And I am eight years old. You may ask how. I will tell you.

Eight years ago I was reborn. No, I am not some evangelist trying to convert you to my way. But maybe after reading this, in some way, you might see you have had a rebirth too.

At the time I was living in a St Mungo’s hostel on Harrow Road. This particular hostel was for the over 50s. It was also a wet hostel. I don’t drink. It’s funny how many of us are put in a place where we stick out like a sore thumb. But I did not mind. I found most of the other residents friendly and we could talk about the important things in life – like football. I do have my priorities.

On this day an organisation called Cardboard Citizens came in to run a series of workshops. I had been an actor and a writer years ago, but had given that up almost eight years before. I was not getting the parts – they did not offer me the Doctor Who role. I would have made a good one.

I felt that acting was in the past for me. But I was still curious so I went along.

Now for those of you who have lived in a hostel you know the score. Most people just live their own lives, they never get involved in activities, but that day there were six other people who attended the workshop. And I don’t think the keyworker went round with a rubber hose to get them to be there.

There were two people from Cardboard; a man who was a theatre director and a woman to assist him. We started with introductions then we were informed that over a period of four weeks we would devise a piece and film it. This was it, I was going to be the new Bob Hoskins. I even started to speak like him.

I never thought about it at the time but that day I was reborn. I was just doing something I loved, acting. I even got the main role – a godfather (though I‘m slimmer than Marlon Brando). I found myself looking forward to each of those sessions

What surprised me was that of the six that first attended only one person dropped out. I think this was due to the people from the Citz (Cardboard Citizens). They had such faith in us, there was no putting another down. I remember that was another thing I hated when I was an actor, the bitchiness. I had seen this many times, one actor had even ended up crying. I stepped in at that point, as the actor who had done the criticising was a terrible performer themself.

On the final day of the course we recorded the piece. It was fun, the whole group had gelled. I was still an actor. I had not only been reborn but also rejuvenated.

I spoke to Cathy, the worker from the Citz, and she encouraged me to join. They ran regular workshops at Crisis. I then saw my first show performed by Cardboard Citizens members, as part of their yearly hostel tour. I thought to myself: I want to be part of that.

That January I was in a group that did some short pieces by Harold Pinter, and in the summer I played Winston Churchill at the War Rooms. Then shortly after I had been resettled, I received a call from the Citz asking me to attend an interview about the forthcoming hostel tour. I went along and it was more of a session about the difficulties of being an actor on the tour. I felt like saying “Just let me do it!”. I was accepted.

The tour lasted three months, we even went to Austria to take part in the Forum Theatre Festival there. I enjoyed my time as part of the company but it was hard work.

I am now a members’ rep for the Citz and go round promoting the organisation. I believe in what they do. I would encourage anyone to join but don’t expect to be an actor, just enjoy the journey.

Ian S Kalman wrote this article while on The Pavement's journalism training course, Word On The Street: London.




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