Janek Alexander obituary

Other Lives: Theatre programmer and then director of Chapter arts centre in Cardiff

My friend and colleague Janek Alexander, who has died aged 61, was made vulnerable to Covid-19 by the impact of Parkinson’s disease, with which he was diagnosed 18 years ago.

While his career was inextricably linked with Chapter arts centre in Cardiff, his influence spread throughout Wales because of his involvement with many key organisations and artists, and further afield through his significant role in the Informal European Theatre Meeting (IETM), a relationship that connected him with the wider European cultural sector.

He also brought influential companies such as the New York based Wooster Group and the Japanese media collective Dumbtype to Cardiff audiences.

Janek was born in Cardiff, the son of Kazimierz Baldy, a sales manager, and his wife, Eva (nee Hinckley), an NHS dialysis receptionist. After school in Cardiff, he studied philosophy and psychology at Warwick University, but his passion was the arts where he became an energetic “mover and shaker”.

As a teenager, his early involvement with theatre was at the youth arts centre, Llanover Hall, where he first met theatre makers with whom he would be involved for the rest of his working life. He was already distinguishing himself – inquisitive, self-aware, eccentric, an artist in waiting. That artistry manifested in the late 1970s when he created eight original productions with his own company, Diamond Age. They were funny, intelligent and provocative, with his original songs and music, and many of us still cherish images from those works.

In 1981 he took up the role of theatre programmer at Chapter, extending his sphere of influence to support burgeoning companies such as the Swansea-based Volcano and Ed Thomas’s Y Cwmni, and the epic productions of Brith Gof.

In 1996 he became director of Chapter, leading an ambitious programme of renovation that increased audiences and transformed Chapter into one of the best arts centres in Europe, while placing it more firmly at the heart of its community. Devoting his career to Chapter, he left only when ill-health forced him to retire in 2011.

Janek was a singular character, a teetotaller and non-smoker. His eyes would light up at the prospect of a special pastry or ice-cream, wherever he was in the world. A man of few words – idiosyncratic, determined and visionary – he had a mordant sense of humour and a keen intellect. His passionate advocacy of the arts and artists in general, and Chapter in particular, is his legacy.

He is survived by his brother, Marek, and his partner, Maxine Brown, who cared for him until the end.

Gilly Adams

The GuardianTramp

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