Take Five with Russ Tunney
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Take Five with Russ Tunney

Russ Tunney is a Theatre Director and Playwright. He is currently Director of Pound Arts Trust and has worked in theatres all over the country including Nuffield Southampton, Salisbury Playhouse, National Theatre, RSC, Bath Theatre Royal, etc.  I met Russ when we both worked at the Chester Gateway Theatre and he was the the energetic and inspiring Education Manager before becoming Acting Chief Executive.  He drew some marvellous work from his huge cohort of young people and his production of Bryony Lavery's play, "More Light", performed in a black box studio by a cast of teenagers, remains one of the most exciting pieces of theatre I have seen.  At one point in the piece, he gave a 14/15 year old actress the confidence to hold an audience spellbound in absolute silence and stillness for 5 minutes.  It was breathtaking.

Russ is currently working on a new play called "Believe" which is a sceptical ghost story. His winter play, "Wolves of Willoughby Chase", is almost constantly in production somewhere in the world and is available from all the usual places for those who love wolves, cheese and danger...

In your professional life, what is the single best thing about what you do? 
I have a fantastic mix of responsibility and play. I get to wake up most mornings excited about my day. I get to have some implausible ideas and make them plausible. I play a part in creating events that people seem to enjoy and occasionally be thrilled by. You asked for one single thing so at a push I would say I get to play a role in the centre of a community creating joyful/meaningful experiences that are all about heart and soul rather than practicality and commerce. I once heard a theatre maker say that she enjoys theatre because it shows her a little of how to be a better person and I guess I believe in that.  Meaningful artistic experiences open windows to possibilities and reflection and I am lucky enough to be immersed in that on a day to day basis.

Do you have a creative hero / heroine and if so, why? 
I’m a theatre person but my inspirations are always musical. Tom Waits has written all the songs I wish I could have written and Kate Bush is the performer I can’t stop marvelling at. I guess what links them is their utter conviction to do things their way. When watching Kate Bush last year I couldn’t stop imaging all the conversations she must have had where people advised her to do it a different way and still she stuck to her guns and creating something so unique, so heartfelt and so unlikely that literally all around audience members were crying tears of joy. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. Tom Waits lets his imagination do all the work and I’m a sucker for it. Who else could open a song with the line “Tonight I’ll shave the mountain”? And, in all his songs, underneath the ragged detritus and fragments of image and sound lie the most beautiful and lyrical melodies. I wish I could do that. 

What piece of advice do you wish you had been given at the beginning of your career? 
It’s all about truth. Audiences respond to moments of truth. They crave these little heartbeats where things feel real, even in the most fantastical stories. And it's ok to make work that you like. If you like it, then there is a chance someone else might. There’s nothing worse than trying to second guess people. It smells of fakeness.

If you hit a creative block, what is your top tip for getting through it? 
I don’t really believe in blocks. The key thing is to keep going. The hardest thing with creative exploits is starting – once you’re on the road keep running…if you are a writer, write. You can always edit and improve later. Inspiration comes at odd and unpredictable moments. You have to be ready to accept it when it finally turns up…

And finally, for fun, if you were a shoe, what type of shoe would you be and why?
I’m a pair tattered red converse that are still being worn despite the fact that they leak and are cold and its winter.

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