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My unexpected path to becoming a Theatreworks facilitator


An interview with Adam Russ

All of our Theatreworks facilitators have their own backstories, passions and approaches to the job. We’ve spoken to each of them to learn a bit more about what makes them tick and to better understand how they encourage participants to be their best selves.

In our recent conversation with our facilitator Adam Russ, he told us about his unexpected path into Theatreworks, the most common challenges he sees participants struggle with and what he would do if he weren’t a facilitator.

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Striking out

AR: Becoming a facilitator was not a planned career goal – I was an actor and a writer. However, after coming out of a meeting for the television series Silent Witness one day, thinking I’d nailed it, I headed to a community centre in Kentish Town for a meeting about role-playing workshops. Despite my lack of interest in the work, I found myself in Stoke-on-Trent a few months later doing business role plays. I told myself that the three-month stint was temporary and that I’d pack it in after the first week, but then I met Ian Jessup who introduced me to the world of facilitation. Ian taught me how to apply what I knew from acting and theatre to the corporate world – and made me understand the importance of giving constructive feedback. I have never looked back.

I worked with Ian for years, observing and learning all the time – wearing a suit and working in the corporate world. A long way from Silent Witness. In 2009, I connected with Theatreworks through a friend of my brother. I was immediately drawn to how close Theatreworks was to the world of theatre. There was not a suit in sight and they made no apologies for their rehearsal room techniques and for bringing the business world to the realm of the theatre, rather than the other way around. I still love this approach and feel incredibly lucky to be part of the team.

A man standing in a group of people with a microphone in his hand, talking to someone outside the frame.

Adam Russ (Photo © Adam Rowley).

Acting and authenticity

The biggest misconception about acting is that it is pretending. What the best actors do is to genuinely share alternative versions of themselves with the audience. And that’s something we all do. I’m a different version of myself with my parents than I am with my friends on a Friday night and I’m different again helping my son with his homework. They’re all authentic versions of me, just different. And I expect that’s the case for pretty much everyone. So I’d say to anyone who was thinking about signing up for an open course: you’re not going to have to act – you’ll just be given the chance to explore different versions of yourself.

One of the things I love about facilitating is that it’s a constant self-education. I am always learning what I can do better. A big challenge for me to overcome early on was to stop talking. I was a self-professed ‘blabbermouth’ for far too long and even talked myself out of jobs. I had to learn how to stop talking and start listening. Being around the good listeners at Theatreworks helped me to cultivate this as a default – it’s the key skill of an effective facilitator.

In the spirit of ‘undoing’ habits and getting into the right mindset, I always find that walking over the bridge from Embankment to the National Theatre on the South Bank is a form of meditation. Walking past the swarms of Londoners headed in the opposite direction puts my head in the right place and helps me to prepare for the session to come.

The importance of curiosity

A group of people sitting on chairs in a circle in a rehearsal room, facing each other.

Adam Russ (center) with participants in a Theatreworks session in 2022 (Photo © Cameron Slater).

Participants often come to Theatreworks sessions looking for ways to navigate difficult situations they are facing in the workplace. One useful question to keep in mind when confronted with tricky behaviours is simply to ask, ‘what’s the other person’s problem?’ Often we ask this as a rhetorical question, but when we sincerely start to consider what others are facing and why they’ve been pushed into certain behaviours, it can help unlock the way forward.

The most common challenge I see participants struggle with is physical and vocal tension. One obvious manifestation of this is participants speaking too fast, ignoring full stops, and not allowing the messages to land with the audience. This is often driven by a discomfort of being in the spotlight, so simply slowing down is not really addressing the issue.

As a facilitator, you have to find ways to build the confidence, and even appetite for attention, in those individuals. The exercises we do to help free the voice and body and undo these fears often make participants feel uncomfortable or even silly to start with, but as the day goes on and they begin to trust those around them and become more at ease with the process, it is rewarding to see the transformation – the letting go.

It is the realisation that the more honest and open you can be with everyone – including yourself – the more effective and inspirational you will ultimately be.

Alternative paths

My experience of being an actor was relatively positive. I made some OK money, never went too long between interesting roles, and got to travel to some great places. I mainly did TV and ads, and in the late noughties I was cast on three episodes of Eastenders. My Mum was delighted to have something to reference next time her friends asked her what I was up to, especially when those episodes led to my character returning a few months later, and to another role on Holby City via the same casting team. But during the filming I came to a realisation that a regular part on a show like that was probably as good as my career as an actor was ever going to get – and I actually enjoyed my work in corporate learning and development more.

The crunch came soon after, in 2011. My wife was pregnant and we were attempting to sell our one-bed flat and find something bigger. I was also in the middle of an executive coaching course which demanded a lot of reading, essay writing and face to face seminar groups and one-to-one sessions. Juggling those with facilitation work, auditions and the extra layers of life management required at the time all seemed too much – something had to give. So when the opportunity to join Theatreworks arose, the timing felt strangely perfect. Time to let go of the acting part of my CV. I wouldn’t be here without the time I spent as an actor, but ultimately acting had become a default I needed to let go of, like many of the habits we see from clients. Supporting the incredible behavioural shifts that participants make in a typical Theatreworks session gives me way more satisfaction than acting work ever did.

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