Russ Tunney, Director of Pound Arts Trust, tells us who has inspired him most.
I have spent most of my career working in arts education and as such have spent much of those years justifying my existence to funders, politicians, boards, sponsors, fellow workers, etc. I know that the work that I have been involved with has influenced the lives of many people and yet it is so hard to gather hard evidence of the value of this. Every arts educator can tell you stories of the young people that have experienced moments of revelation in the workshop room or school. Ken Robinson has an eloquence and comprehension that is frankly astonishing. ‘How Schools Kill Creativity’ makes me laugh, nod, and almost weep with recognition every time I watch it.
When I was a young theatre director, Hilary was my first mentor. She worked with young people and taught me so much about leading teams and having high aspirations for the creative possibilities of individuals. She had a fearsome reputation but was actually deeply concerned with the fulfilment of all she worked with. Hilary taught me that collaboration is a potent force and the unlocking of creativity in others could be achieved in a multitude of ways. She had formidable energy, was always keen to gather creative minds around her and was probably the first person to see potential in me. She gave me a number of opportunities that have helped to define the career that I have subsequently developed; never afraid to give me deep responsibility and to trust my instincts.
I was Associate Director to Artistic Director Patrick Sandford for ten years at The Nuffield Theatre in Southampton. They were ten exciting years. Patrick is so creative and passionate about the arts and is also a genius in terms of how he engages other creative people. He gave me both considerable artistic freedom and lots and lots of critical feedback. Directing can be a fairly solitary process and you meet so many directors who have never had their work questioned and interrogated. Patrick will always try and help you to make work better – and it would be a fool who refused. He also instinctively knows that theatre is about people – writers, audiences, characters and actors. He helped me to keep my eye on people not themes, interpretations or other fashionable fads. A wonderful, faintly anarchic and inspiring man.
When I write I have to do it to music. I have to find the world of the play somewhere on my iPod. It’s the only way I can find a way in and to get the first word written on the page. It is astonishing how often I find that world somewhere in the music of Tom Waits. I love the uniqueness of Tom Waits – there is no other artist remotely like him. His words are astonishing and his music so beautiful. The humanity radiates like moonlight. And I adore the fact that he does little to explain his work. It is there for you to explore – to like or not to like.
As a child I distinctly remember being thrilled and delighted by the writing of Joan Aiken and am amazed and touched that all these years later I have been entrusted with adapting four of her books for the stage. She was so committed to the seriousness and potential of children’s literature – that children could be engaged with deep and dark dilemmas. She had that value that I prize most – a sense of wonderment with the astonishing possibilities of the everyday, that underneath the surface a strange and unusual world of imaginative possibilities lurks. Her books lend themselves well to the stage – colourful and dynamic characters, arcing plotlines and worlds that are clearly defined by children. Like in the best Dahl stories, children are generally plotted against scheming untrustworthy adults. I have been genuinely inspired by the struggle to translate the magic of these books into a theatrical essence.
Matt is the Artistic Director of Theatre at the Quarter in Chester and is a composer. He has written the music for 80% of the shows that I have directed over the last decade. His music is layered and gorgeous, although he inspires me not just because of his music. He is also a community activist committed to ensuring that the city that he lives in has a thriving artistic identity. He works to engage people of all ages with artistic expression in whatever form, and tirelessly promotes the arts to local politicians and decision makers. And he brings the world of artist and audience together. His aesthetic is about a shared experience in its most true form.
Russ Tunney is the Director of Pound Arts Trust, which incorporates Pound Arts Centre, Corsham Festivals and the rural touring programmes for Wiltshire and South Gloucestershire. He is also a playwright and theatre director.