Wednesday, 31 August 2016

A Girl and a Dramaturgy: Louise Orwin @ Buzzcut

Glasgow date on national tour for new show from ‘Pretty/Ugly’ maverick artist

It comes to Glasgow’s CCA on 14 September for the Buzzcut Double Thrills series.

‘All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun’ Jean-Luc Goddard

The world has changed in many ways since then, but last year Louise Orwin started seeing girls and guns everywhere. She obsessed over them on YouTube, marvelled over them in music videos, felt a bit disgusted about them in video games, and tried not to see them in pornography

She decided to make a show that would challenge those films, which use girls and guns as easy plot devices, and the audiences that watch them - whilst also admitting her own confusion, as a woman, at being simultaneously repulsed and attracted to exactly that kind of imagery.

Where did the inspiration for the work come from?

A few things happening at once really. Beyonce released her
Louise Orwin by Field and McGlynn
music video for ‘Videophone’ featuring her and Lady Gaga scantily-clad bearing multi-coloured guns as props; I watched Springbreakers and the scene where two teenage girls lie on a bed surrounded by guns and using them a sexual props stuck with me; and I came across the work of B-movie mogul Andy Sidaris, who essentially makes low-grade Bond-esque action films which always star playboy bunnies running around with guns.

I kept thinking about the references to guns in each of these contexts, how the images were stuck in my head, how they all elicited different reactions from me (but overwhelming a mix of being reviled and attracted at the same time), I wondered about the economy of power when a woman in a bikini holds a gun (is it/can it ever be empowering), I wondered who these images were for.

I then started thinking about my own appetite for these kind of images, perhaps starting to realise that it was an appetite that had started at quite a young age.

Realizing that there was something almost unconscious about my response to these kind of films, I decided I wanted to make a show that interrogated the allure of the image of the girl and the gun on film, and interrogated how deeply embedded these kind of films can become in our psyches.

You've presented the work at Buzzcut, I believe - does this suggest that the piece is in a live art tradition. Is this fair, or do you see it in another tradition?

Yes. I see the work as sitting somewhere between live art and experimental theatre. Although I do find that these terms become interchangeable depending on who I’m talking to. In many ways, I feel like the work I’ve been making lately is live art for theatrical spaces.

I’m interested in playing with theatrical convention, and the idea of the ‘passive’ viewer. For this work in particular, which is so much about the audience’s gaze, and the idea that we can participate in a culture just by watching, it made sense to use a traditional theatrical set up, and then find ways to subvert or toy with audience expectation in the hope that I can make them see again, or anew.

Are there any artists that you feel a particular affinity with - either in terms of influence or who are working in similar ways?

Over the past few years my work has been likened a few different artists constantly: from Bryony Kimmings, to Tim Crouch, to Action Hero. I used to struggle with these sort of comments, as I wanted my work to be unique and be independent on its own. However, saying that, none of us make work in a vacuum, and there will always be similarities between my work and the work of my peers.

At the moment, I am particularly feeling Sleepwalk Collective’s work. I love the way they play with pop culture, and the image- and definitely feel an affinity with the content and tone of their work.

So... the stupid questions...

Any work with the word 'woman' in the title can be associated with 'feminist' theatre. Is this a useful word for you, and do you see it as 'feminist' in intention... and if the answer is yes, what kind of feminist does it align with?

Yes, I would definitely say that A Girl and A Gun is feminist in intention, and personally I don’t have a problem with the label. If the work is good, and challenging, and helps people be critical of their own politics, then the show is successful. If it is all these things, and also labelled feminist, then in my mind this can only be a good thing.

This show deals very clearly with the construction of gender roles in our society through pop culture. As I am a woman making this work, people might assume that the focus is on the standard for female roles set by these kind of films, but actually I would suggest that the show looks equally at the roles set for men and women in the films we watch- how easy it can be to unconsciously strive to fit into these moulds, or how difficult it might be to live up to those cookie-cutter standards.

I consider my feminism queer and intersectional. I am constantly struggling with the idea and discussions that are had around post-feminism, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some labelled this show as post-feminist.

I believe this is mostly because of the way I perform my role in the show as ‘Her’- which is ambiguously- and how I show the clear struggle I have in being both attracted and repulsed by idea of the femme fatale. To me this struggle is clear, but I have had older more ‘second wave’ feminists who have been angered by the assumption and repetition of the almost-masochistic female role, and in my mind, have chosen not to look beyond that.

The number of younger women who have emailed me, tweeted me, congratulated me after seeing the show, however, says to me that I must be doing something right. It’s important to me that my work is never didactic, I want to be honest about the complexity of modern life, and be open and clear in presenting how that can be a struggle. 

Any work with the word 'gun' in the title suggests an association with violence. Is that a helpful way into the work?

I think it is very helpful for this show- because violence sells, we are attracted to it. And that’s part of what the show is about. It’s not only about violence, but how we are attracted to violence

I once had an audience member come up to me after the show and congratulate me- he told me that for him, the work had started with show poster and title and how they reel you in. He told me that all these things had made him feel an even bigger ‘drop’ as he left the auditorium. I wont give too much away, but there is a moment later in the show where the allure of ‘cool’ and the conventions adhered to in the beginning of the show are broken.

In some ways, I guess the show begins when you read the title, see the poster, and decide to book a ticket.

How do you feel about nostalgia?

That it’s bitter-sweet. I think we live in a very nostalgic, and referential age. And I think you can see that in everything from fashion to music to film. I don’t have a problem with it aesthetically, in fact I love nostalgic references in film- but I think it probably does become a problem with other things, like politics. I’m thinking specifically about the nostalgia that I hear from older generations, where the past is romanticized, as being simpler (‘men’s and women’s role were much simpler in my day’ etc.).

Often these are the opinions that you hear from the privileged though. It’s important that we continue to push forward into the future politically, and that the past is used as a learning tool. To bring it back to A Girl and A Gun, I aim to use nostalgic references as a way of showing audiences how embedded ideas can become within us, almost unknowingly, from the bombardment of images.

Though it’s all original writing, the show should feel to many audiences as if they’ve seen it all before- and its what they do with that realisation, that counts.

What kind of process did you use in making the work?

Hours and hours of watching film (Godard, Tarantino, B-movies), and listening to music. After this I did a huge chunk of writing, letting myself be quite free, in order to see what came out of the watching and listening by osmosis in my writing. From that writing I picked out the elements that came out most strongly again and again, and based my narrative and characters on those elements.

I then began to write a film script. I’ve never done this before, so it was quite an interesting process. My work always comes from a very visual place, but it was interesting to almost story-board the script as well. The show features two cameras on stage too, with live-feeds that are projected onto the back wall of the playing area. During the writing process I found that these two cameras almost became characters in themselves, as they fed into the script a lot.

Technically, it was quite a difficult script to write. Although I could plan for my scenes, as the character of ‘Him’ is played every night by someone who hasn’t seen the script before, it was a balancing act between trying to be as clear and demonstrative as possible for that person, while still staying true to the ‘experiment’ of having an unprepared performer on stage with me. Not knowing quite what this performer will do, or how they will perform their role is exciting, but you still need to make sure that the show holds together as much as possible.

What audience reactions have you had - and what are you expecting on the tour?

People often leave the auditorium feeling like they’ve been ‘part of something’. I think the device of using an unprepared performer on stage, can make the audience feel as if they are watching one of their own up there. There is always laughter, and also a few tears. I’ve had women come up to me and tell me that the show spoke to them about how they seem themselves in society, or about struggling with past abusive relationships. I’ve had young men come up to me and tell me that they’ll never be able to watch their favourite films in the same way again.

Generally, I find that audiences around my ages (maybe 20 – 35) are the audiences that enjoy the show the most. This is probably because they will pick up more of the references. But I’d like to think the show is open enough to be enjoyed by younger and older audiences too.

I’m expecting more of the same on tour. I’m interested to see what the regional differences might be in how the male role is performed (the male participant is always local to the venue), and how far he will go. I’m expecting this to change quite a bit, and the audience reaction to him, as the show travels.

Do you use any particular strategies towards these end?

The show aims to be manipulative of the audience (nostalgic, the allure of women and guns and violence etc), but the show will stay the same wherever I go.

I’ve had an idea that I’d like to archive the decision making of the ‘Him’ as the show travels though. Perhaps with a view of building up a map of how male-ness is viewed all over the UK!

Do you feel that performance is a good space for the discussion of big ideas?

Yes- in fact it’s always an aim in my work. I think the key word here though is ‘discussion’. I dislike being preached to, and I think many people feel the same. I like to play with ambiguity a lot in my work. In my mind, ambiguity can activate an audience- keeps them alive with questions, and thus part of the conversation. That’s not to say that I don’t have strong opinions, but often the work I make covers a topic where there isn’t black or white. I want to make work that provokes discussion and debate, that keeps you thinking, or keeps coming back to you, niggling at you long after you’ve left the theatre.

‘From a young age I’ve been particularly drawn to the image of the femme fatale’ said Louise, ‘but as my politics developed I began to question this. By making an unprepared stranger the star of the show every night, it is my hope that audiences will consider how they might feel if they, too, were put in this position’

A Girl And A Gun is a live multi-media performance structured as a live film-making experiment for theatres and art spaces. It has a razor sharp satirical script and is performed by Louise with a different local male guest performer at every show. 

The guest male performer will have never seen the script before. He will read his lines and stage directions live off an autocue, the audience seeing some of his lines and directions projected onto an onstage screen. As the performance progresses, He is directed to do increasingly violent things to Her, and He must decide what He will and won’t do. 

‘performed with real talent and conviction’ The Stage

A Girl & A Gun mischievously challenges not only ideas of masculinity and femininity, but also pop culture and broader society’s appetite for violence. It creates audience anticipation and complicity to provoke the viewer to examine their own appetite for violence in the media, and the intrinsic sexual objectification of women found all around us.

Louise’s last show Pretty Ugly received international media attention- it has been featured in New York Magazine, Wired Magazine, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Telegraph and on BBC Radio 4’s Woman's Hour. Internationally it has been featured in El Pais, New York Magazine, Suddeutschezeitung, and in online publications in France, Chile, Germany, Italy, Russia, Argentina and all over the US and UK

Louise Orwin is a London based artist-researcher. Her work spans the live and the recorded with incarnations in performance, video and photography. She is preoccupied with livesness, awkwardness, femininity and masochism, but above all she likes to have fun. 

‘A Girl And A Gun’ was commissioned by Contact Theatre (Manchester) and MC Theatre (Amsterdam) as part of their prestigious Flying Solo Festival. 

A Girl & A Gun: Louise Orwin
An unflinchingly provocative look at the relationship between women and violence in media, starring Orwin and a different male performer at each show. 
14 September 7pm
Glasgow CCA 350 Sauchiehall Street G2 3JD (Buzzcut)
£8/£6 0141 352 4900 

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