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Q&A with Director Ruth Carney

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In a further instalment of COVID-19 interviews and the impact on the theatre industry, At The Theatre has caught up with Ruth Carney, a professional freelance director to ask about the impact on her and what is happening next for her.

Ruth is currently directing Casualty for the BBC and Two by Jim Cartwright at The New Vic Theatre. Previously to this she was directing Emmerdale for ITV and Holby City for the BBC. In 2016 Ruth was accepted onto the BBC Directors Room Scheme this led to her directing 16 episodes of the BBC daytime drama Doctors.  She has just shot her first short film Funtimes by Samantha Robinson. You can find out all about Ruth at www.ruthcarney.co.uk. Ruth also established Carney Academy based in Sheffield and Cheshire.

What were you doing when the announcements were made for the theatres to close & filming to be suspended on many TV series & films?

So I was in the middle of filming my first block of Casualty for the BBC – I was just about to complete one episode of the two that I am still contracted to do. The team there were amazing and the Exec Producer, Line Producer and my Producer kept us up to date with everything that was going on every day.  We were all extremely well supported.  We were told at the end of the Thursday that we would not be continuing shooting which we all knew was coming anyway.

This news was not new to us but obviously the big impact is everyone that day and the week before was losing work for the foreseeable future with no knowledge of when it is going to start.

What have you been up to since then?

Since then one of my episodes has been fine cut in the edit and I have watched it and sent notes back – this will go out in July now as previously planned. I have been part of play readings with actors I know over Zoom.  This has been great as it means I can hear plays read out loud.  This is in the hope of finding a play suitable for the New Vic when it is back open and running and Theresa and her team can think about planning the future seasons.  It’s a frightening time for everyone, however I know that theatre will be ok in the future as it has such a great loyal audience.

 Do you plan on being part of or creating any online content whilst the theatres are closed?

Both my academies are creating content.  All nine teachers across both academies are working to a timetable created by actor David Gregan Jones who teaches in Sandbach for me. They are coming up with challenges, exercises and classes that will appeal to everyone.  You can check them out on our Instagram page which is @carneyacademy and both Facebook pages and YouTube Channel Carney Academy.  If you do any of the challenges you can send them in to us and have professional feedback.

What do you think about the theatre industry putting out live streams and pre-recordings of shows?

I think it’s a great way of engaging people who are interested in theatre but also a way of engaging those who maybe don’t go to the theatre.  I also think it reminds us that we are an entertainment profession and that in these times the things people go to are theatre, television and film.

Can you tell us more about the Carney Academy you established? What impact has this current situation had on those and your students?

I set up Carney Academy in Sheffield in September 2010, it is 10 years old this year!  And Cheshire is now 3 years old.  I am very proud of both the schools and the work they do.  Many students have gone onto the major drama schools and also done lots of professional work.  However, that is not the aim of the school. It is about building skills and confidence something which if you look at outline classes you can try now.

This situation is of course having a huge impact on us as we have had to close for the foreseeable future.  I was fortunate enough to be able to pay my teachers until Easter but they are freelancers like me and are now not getting paid.  Whether they are eligible for the government schemes I do not know but it’s a hard time.  I sadly am not eligible as all my companies are LTD.  It’s also frightening as who knows when this is going to end and whether people will want to return when we are through this.

The students are also effected as it is part of their weekly lives.  The classes and challenges online are helping but it is not the same as attending the classes and seeing their teachers who they have strong bonds with.

If you were a young actor/technician in the middle of training right now, having had classes, showcases and auditions suspended, what advice would you give them?

Carry on with your online classes that lots of drama schools are offering, watch the online shows and good films and TV.  Read plays and books – expand your knowledge.  Get some friends together over Zoom and read a play.  For technicians/Designers you could do a design project around a play that you know you are interested in designing – keep your skills up.

Could you tell us a bit about the other projects that you have in the pipeline?

Well I will be back at the New Vic at some point to direct but who knows when at the moment.  I will be back to Casualty to finish my episodes and also I am off to Emmerdale later in the year – all this however is up in the air at the moment.

How did you become a Director?

I was involved with Sheffield University Theatre Company at Uni and did lots of things there, performed, stage management, lighting etc. and I also directed a student performance of Cabaret.  From this I was hooked into theatre but I still wanted to be a Barrister.  I backpacked America in between my second and third year at Uni and watched Sunset Boulevard on Broadway – this is when I knew.  In my third year at uni I decided it was directing and applied for Directing courses one of which was an MA in Theatre Directing at Middlesex Uni and The Russian Theatre Academy in Moscow, Russia.  This is where it all started for me

If you singled out one of the performances you directed, which would it be and why?

It would be Two at the New Vic.  For me it is one of the best things I have ever directed.  The two actors Samantha Robinson and Jimmy Fairhurst gave brilliant performances and from day one in rehearsals were receptive to trying anything.  The movement by Richard Roe was sublime and again we all just worked together as one.  I just felt that my past experience and skills all came together in this moment.

With regards to the impact on the UK theatre & Film industries, we’ve seen that lots of self-employed people have had to take up alternative jobs, how do you feel about that?

I think it’s incredibly sad however I know that lots of people not just those in the arts are having to do this to support their families.  If my husband and I didn’t have a vulnerable person living with us as self-employed people we would also have to be doing it.

What do you think about the help from the UK government to support self-employed people?

I think its poor to say the least.  The arts in this country is one of the biggest creators of GDP to the economy and we are not being treated as such. In addition, the current government and other Tory ones have always encouraged people to have their own businesses and be self-employed but they now cannot look after us. If anyone suggests that I haven’t paid as much tax, I would happily show them how much I have paid over three businesses and therefore why am I not entitled to anything?  In two words NOT HAPPY.