Stuart Olesker turns 80!


Stuart Olesker, a familiar and friendly face to many in the city through his work as a playwright and former lecturer at University of Portsmouth, will celebrate his 80th Birthday this weekend with special celebrations set to take place at Portsmouth Guildhall including a fundraising concert in aid of the Ukraine Appeal that is open for all to attend.

Due to the war, in 1942 Stuart was born in Yorkshire, but he and his parents swiftly returned to their exuberant, extended Jewish family in London soon after. Following the divorce of his parents, Stuart and his mother moved to Eastbourne where he attended the local grammar school.

He went on to Cambridge University, the first person in his family to do so. While academic work was not a challenge, the social environment was, and Stuart left after one year. Perhaps it was this experience that gave Stuart an empathy for ‘outsiders’, for after training as a teacher at Cullen College, and finally taking a degree at Bristol, Stuart chose to work with people with physical, sensory or intellectual impairments for several years, in the UK and the United States.

Stuart had an eclectic journey towards his eventual career – he performed as part of a travelling puppet theatre company, and spent time working on Kibbutzim in Israel, exploring his Jewish identity while making pink plastic toilet seats – an activity he celebrated in song, in one of the many plays he was writing. These two strands intertwined for the next 50 years, as a gifted educationalist and a talented writer.

Stuart came to Portsmouth in 1979 to run a creative project at the Deaf Centre. From there he was head hunted to work at the Art College, which transformed into the polytechnic, which finally became the University. Many of his former students have gone on to work in the arts, in Portsmouth and beyond. Even more have performed in the over 60 shows he has written (often with John Stanton, who he met while lecturing at the University) which often explore lesser-known local historical stories.

Stuart and his partner have three children and in order to ensure the boys had a rounded understanding of Jewish life and culture, the family joined the local Reform Jewish community with which they are still involved today. All three sons work in the arts.

Those who know Stuart will recognise his warmth, humanity and intelligence which, combined with his passion for books and reading, and his creative abilities, have informed, entertained and delighted so many for 80 years.

An Afternoon of Klezmer Music and Dance, a part of the Birthday celebrations which is open for all to attend, will take place from 1pm on Sunday 30th October at Portsmouth Guildhall with all profits from the event going to the Ukraine Appeal. The Don Kipper Trio, three members of the multi award-winning supergroup Don Kipper, will delve deep into the spirit of Jewish music and take the audience on an odyssey through Eastern Europe.
Last remaining tickets costing £15 (£12 concessions) can be purchased here.    

Happy Birthday Stuart!

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