Life’s A… Peter Maple talks with Director, Writer, Actor Wayne Tunks – TALKING ARTS

Life’s A…

1. a female dog.
2. a malicious, unpleasant, selfish person; a lewd person – Disparaging and Offensive.
3. a person who is submissive or subservient to someone (usually in a humiliating way).
4. a person who willingly or unwillingly submits to the will and control of a dominant partner in a (sexual) relationship.
5. a complaint.
6. anything difficult or unpleasant.
7. anything memorable, especially something exceptionally good: “You threw one BITCH of a party last night.”

Writer, Director, Actor, Producer Wayne Tunks and I discuss life, art, family, and his latest production, Bitch:

What does YOUR life consist of these days?

Am keeping myself very busy. Came back home to Sydney from Melbourne nearly 2 years ago and feel like I haven’t stopped – but I love that! Right now besides Bitch, I am working on new projects, teaching after school drama to kids, and am doing preschool theatre! I love being a sea captain looking for the Lochness Monster for kids all over NSW – it’s a lot of fun.

How long have you been in the creative arts industry?

Some may say birth! But really I have been producing and creating theatre for 18 years. I studied TV production, and went to work in the Neighbours story-room, but, my heart has always belonged to theatre. So, in that 18 years I have consistently been making theatre. It is my life’s love.

How would you define yourself, and your role/s, within the industry?

Some may say I’m just a loudmouth! With something to say. And maybe I am. But, I have a view point that isn’t always seen – so I will keep telling stories important to me (and others!). I am a campaigner for LGBT rights, even more so as I get older. I also think it’s important to tell really Australian stories, and that’s what I like to do.

I am an actor, a writer, a director, a producer and a drama coach. I like to dabble in a bit of everything.

Tell me about your latest project, Bitch.

Bitch is a black comedy about a typical family that just happen to be a bit messed up. The production has an amazing cast, filled with some real theatre pros, and then some younger performers – who you can clearly see have a very big future in front of them.

Family matriarch, Julie, (Felicity Burke), is a pokie addict with a drinking problem. She has two kids, Jimmy (that’s me), who is still messed up from an incident 25 years before, and Robyn (Emma Louise) who works in retail with the manager from hell. Robyn has two teenage twins. Clint (Nick Sinclair) is questioning his gender; while Emma (Claire Johnston) is looking for love in all the wrong places.

There’s some challenging issues there within, but some great light too!

Biting; Visceral; Impactful; and Immediate, and Strong (and to some, possibly offensive) – why the title Bitch?

I like to be upfront. And I like to shock a little.

It’s certainly a title you take notice of. And will remember.

Bitch is such an interesting word, it has so many meanings, and means so many different things, to so many different people. Some people use it as a compliment – some as a put down. It’s also a very descriptive word. Every character in this play is referred to as a ‘bitch’ – calling themselves one, or, someone else one. And again, each time, in many very different ways.

Once you see the play, you see it is a very fitting title…!

What is Family to you?

Family is what you make it. True family are those that we love and trust. They can make us angry sometimes; but you would do anything for them. Sometimes blood can let us down, and so friends become your family. Forget the stereotypical notion of the family we got from American TV in the 50s – your family can be whatever you want it to be.

Who is Family to you?

For me, it is a combination of birth family and my friends circle.

The Tunks clan are a crazy bunch, that I adore. I have two nephews who I just think the world of. Then, there are my friends who have become my family. That’s what my best friend, Charlene, and I refer to ourselves as. I am an Uncle to her kids, and my mother has become a pseudo mother to her. We even do a big combined family lunch on Christmas Eve! It has become my favourite day of the year.

My friends truly are as much my family as my actual family.

Comparatively, you’ve been working on the writing of this particular play for some time – how long would you say?

I began writing it 4 and a half years ago. Which is a very long time for me.

It started because I had been working in TV for a few years by then, and needed some work – so I went back to retail… And my first assistant manager was not the nicest, so I began writing some scenes about retail, and having a bad boss, and it spiralled into a play that I couldn’t help but keep coming back to. The relevance and resonance just kept popping up…

We did a read-through of the play originally in Melbourne, and did some big changes, and came back to Sydney and repeated that process. That script has gone on quite the journey, a little like me!

Do you think the play’s intentions and agendas – and possibly your own even – changed (dramatically) over that uncommon prolonged period of time?

We evolve, and hopefully our work does as well.

On the retail side for example, I became a manager. And I’m sure a lot of my staff thought I was a ‘bitch’! (I can be). So, that was interesting. And, also, a good ‘bitch’ about customers can be therapeutic – anyone whose worked in retail knows that! But, mainly, the transgender story became more important to me over that period of time. Much more.

It has become obvious recently that we need to talk about gender issues more. It is much more prevalent. And I believe this to be such a poignant story – so it became more and more important to me to get it right.

Do you feel the play has benefitted from this longer ‘gestation’ period?

Yeah. It has probably had the most rewrites of any show I have done. We even did a major rewrite of the second-last scene during the rehearsal period… It has really evolved. But the central stories and the play’s ‘heart’ have all remained the same. I became even more so committed to tell the story of these characters – these people! – that I have grown to love and respect.

What do you hope most an audience will glean from Bitch?

First and foremost I want people to have a good night. We can often lose sight of that. Most people won’t come back to the theatre if they don’t have a good time. There’s plenty of laughs to be had. But there’s also some serious stuff about family, gender and self-worth.

I like to challenge while entertaining. Many of us in our lefty theatre bubbles forget that the work we deal in is challenging to many people, so, I always hope to entertain while enlightening.

What’s next?

Keeping myself busy indeed! I am about to shoot my web series, Impulse, starring Stephen Mahy, Renee Lim and myself. Plus, my new theatre show, Diva Wars, will be playing at The New Theatre for the Sydney Fringe Festival in September – it’s a completion on my Madonna trilogy. There will be the release my debut novel this year, Electricity. And what else…?!

…I’m sure I’ll find other ways to keep myself out of trouble!

Peter Maple – Theatre Now and Talking Arts
Original publish date, June 1, 2017.