Saturday, 15 July 2017

A Girl and a Dramaturgy: Louise Orwin @ Edfringe 2017

Dates: 2-27 Aug (not 3, 7, 14, 21) 
Time: 18.00 (70 mins)

What was the inspiration for A Girl & A Gun?
I started researching the basis of the show, when I began re-thinking Godard’s famous statement: ‘All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.’ 

I’ve always been a massive fan of film, and the French new wave in particular, but as my politics developed I began to wonder exactly what it was that Godard was saying when he uttered those words. I felt like there was perhaps a clue in those words as to who he was making film for (spoiler
alert: MAN). 

Thinking about the male gaze in cinema is nothing new- I am fanatic about Laura Mulvey’s work on this topic, but at this point in time I began to really think about my own appetite for these kind of images as a reasonably well-informed, politically engaged young woman. 

At the same time as pondering these ideas a few other things happened. Beyonce released her 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.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 
Yes. I mean, I hope so. If it’s not, I’ll stop what I’m doing right now…. But, honestly, it is absolutely my belief that performance is one of the best arenas to tackle big issues. We live in a confusing world, I believe, now more than ever. 

With its half-read, click-bait, list-icles, and its ever-increasing platforms for political discussion, speech and demonstration, its fake news and its echo chambers. I think its hard to find spaces to really chew over ideas, to consider the grey areas, to ask the difficult, big questions. I think theatre and performance spaces are brilliant for doing just that. 

If done right, they can provide an hour long meditation for audiences to consider topics and issues in all their complexity. And crucially, they can do this in very different means to the mediums we are used to, which I believe can help people understand issues in different lights.

In my work, I use ambiguity as a driving force to help open up, and grease discussion for topics that irk me, or anger me, or confuse me. I dislike being preached to, and I think many people feel the same. 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.

How did you first become interested in making performance?
I did a BA in Drama and English at Bristol which had a real emphasis on avant-garde work and film/mixed media performance which has undoubtedly had a huge impact on my work, but it was only after graduating from my MA in Performance Research from RCSSD in 2011 that I began working as a solo artist. My MA was basically a research-led course, so I spent a year in a studio banging my head against a wall trying to figure out what my practice was, and lo and behold a year later I emerged a fully-formed practitioner. Which is obviously a complete lie- it was when I graduated that’s when the real work began. 

But that year set me in really good stead for asking difficult questions about my practice, and the work I wanted to make. I remember a course tutor saying to us: ‘what’s that thing that itches at you? 

The thing that won’t go away no matter how hard you scratch at it?’ I find that’s where the good work always is- it’s a problem waiting to be worked out, worked through. And there’s a good chance that if it’s itching so much at you, its probably itching at other people as well. I guess it’s there that I realized that I had really specific things I wanted to itch at, and that it felt like performance was the only way I was going to get at them. 

Is there any particular approach you took to the making of the show?

This show was quite interesting for me in terms of process, because the concept or conceit of the show (whereby the show is performed by me and a new male performer every night, reading our lines and following stage directions from a live autocue) came quite early on in the process. This meant that the show became quite fixed in its development early on. 

With other shows I tend to have a really long research and development phase, followed by a phase of making and writing where I let myself create without restriction, without fear of it being shit- I just produce and produce and produce. And then after this the editing phase happens. 

With this show, I knew I had certain things that needed to happen when I was writing: I knew that the male part needed a specific arc of narrative or development, I knew that I needed to take into account the fact that there are constantly two cameras on stage, I knew that my role on stage would have to be performer, but also stage manager, and so on.

It was also the first time I’d ever written a film script- which was interesting and fun, and a very different challenge. My work is always very visual, so I’m quite used to story-boarding my work anyway, but this was a whole new kettle of fish.  

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.

Does the show fit with the style of your other productions?

Yes, there are definitely elements in it which I think are very ‘Louise Orwin’ – its use of mixed-media on stage, its participatory engagement, its tone which is playful and possibly slightly threatening at the same time, its willingness to provoke an audience in dark and surprising ways. But the format is probably something which is very different to other shows of mine too. Plus it’s the first time I’ve assumed an actual ‘character’. 

When I’m on stage I’m normally playing some heightened version of myself, I call her ‘Louise in inverted commas’. The role I play in this, ‘Her’, is like a development of that- she is very campy with her Southern Belle accent, and her cherry stalk twirling and her flirtatious gestures, but in other ways she is also just an extension of myself. She is the femme fatale character I wanted to grow up to be as a child, she is everything I love and hate about hyper-femininity, and in this way she is everything I feel about my own femininity made physical, visible on stage. 

I like to play with audience perception of myself, and so there are moments when this character might slip- but the audience will struggle to identify whether this slippage is real or another part of the production. I like to keep my audiences guessing, keep them alive in the experience. If you give them everything, with no work of their own to do, you might as well just let them sleep through the show and deliver them a FAQ after.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

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. 

There are loads of hidden references all over the script and staging to popular cinema which makes the show feel super familiar to audiences- people have come up to me afterwards asking me if parts of the script are directly lifted from films, but its all original. This was a deliberate choice to give my audiences a feel of the uncanny whilst they’re watching, in the hope that this may help they see anew. 

I’m really excited to bring the show to Edinburgh too, with its plethora of performers (fresh meat!) and its saturation, and excitement, and its jaded audiences. I’m wondering how the show will develop and change each night, and how it might change doing the show for such a long time too. 

A Girl and A Gun Trailer from Louise Orwin on Vimeo.

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