Sunday, April 21, 2013

Farewell Mike Powell - a gentleman and a scholar ...

This weekend I sadly learned of the death of a friend of mine from University.

Back in 1994, both me and Mike Powell were technically "mature students" at the University Of Essex.  I was 24 and studying for a Masters degree in laser physics, he was in his 40s and studying a philosophy degree.


Our paths crossed through a campus drama group we both became involved in - "A Flash Of Inspiration Productions".  The group, far more than any I've been involved with before or since, really aimed to bring out acting ability within people - yes even physicists!  We would rehearse for a play under producer Abigail Cheverst, but she would lead us in workshops to do so much more.

Being in "A Flash Of Inspiration" was not about sticking to the script and learning your lines.  Workshops would have you acting out "like your character" in different improvised scenes to really get under the skin of who your character was.  One of the activities I remember the best was where we'd have to act through a scene, and a couple of fellow actors were given deliberate instructions to attempt to ruin it.  With a couple of people forgetting lines or giving the wrong lines, it was up to you to improvise your way back towards the story "without making it look like anything was wrong".  It's probably this training which means as a tester I'm quite comfortable to use the scripts we might have as guidelines and "explore off script when needed", but more importantly look for the pieces of the script which matter and have to be there and the stuff that's just "fluff".

At 6' 2", I'm a pretty big guy, but I was dwarfed by Mike Powell, who we all called "Big Mike".  He was a clever person, and quite a character - part revolutionary, part hippie - who seemed to know rather too much about political history, and was an influential figure in the campus Fifth Monarchist "Anarchist Society".

But most of all I remember through "A Flash Of Inspiration" his amazing ability at improvisational comedy.  Two such sketches really stand out,

  • "Smile For The Judges" was a sketch where a ballroom dancing couple's relationship is crumbling during a dance competition, as each reveals what they know about the other's infidelities.  Their exchanges become ever more bitter about how their marriage has fallen apart, punctuated ever so often with Mike reminding his partner to "smile for the judges" to pretend everything on the outside is a garden of Eden.
  • In "We're Down To Our Last Geologist" an expedition into an unnamed wilderness has gone badly wrong.  The last two survivors challenge each other over the deaths of the rest of the party, as it becomes increasingly obvious the two have been turning to cannibalism to survive.


In recent years, I'd reconnected with Mike via Facebook - he still lived in Colchester around some of our friends from University, whilst I'd spread my wings.  It was good to connect up with him - still as passionate and influential as ever (voles had been a big interest of late).  Although I knew he was battling a tumour, you always hope for the best.  However I learned this weekend that he died a couple of months ago.

Like Violet, Mike is worthy of mention on this blog despite being nothing to do with testing, because he is someone who Mark Steel would identify as "a person with a passion".  Mike through political activism and storytelling was an incredibly passionate person who talked about ideas and ideals, unafraid to compromise.  And yet someone you could disagree with, and still be friends.

We need to grow up around that sort of environment so that we can learn to find our voice as well to speak when we need to over the things that matter.  And as Mike showed us young things to speak intelligently, draw people into your ideas without ranting, and sell it to them.

RIP Mike Powell ...


4 comments:

  1. I feel deeply saddened that you lost your friend. He sounds like he was a truly lovely human being - eternally curious and open.

    Cancer acts without care. It cares not for ones intellect or love of life, nor for the love others hold for us. It consumes until there is nothing more.

    I have lost people people too and I take hope in the scientific certainty that Mike's energy is still in this world even if his physical form is no more. His existence has forever altered the course of the Universe in his own unique way.

    Thank you for sharing your loss, it helped me feel more connected to you than we already are.

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