Caro Meets Comedy Interview Theatre Interview

Louise Orwin: A Girl & A Gun

By | Published on Thursday 17 November 2016


If you revel in performances that really make you think, then you should definitely plan to see ‘A Girl & A Gun’, which explores themes of violence and sexism in film, and how the media caters to the male gaze. It also features a different, unprepared actor at at every show.
To find out more, I spoke to the show’s creator Louise Orwin, ahead of tour dates at London’s Pleasance Theatre.

CM: Can you start by telling us about the title – where does that come from?
LO: The title comes from a quote by French new-wave filmmaker Jean Luc Godard: ‘All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.’ I came across this when I was studying film at university, which was how I came to know and love his work.

However, as my politics developed post-uni, I felt like his words kept rattling around my head. I wanted to know why he had said that, and whether he might actually be right. I wanted to know what it was about girls and guns that pop culture seems to love. And the more I thought about it, the more I reflected on how so much cinema, from the trashy Hollywood blockbusters, to the more art-house French new wave, or even the radical b-movies subcultures like grindhouse, seemed to be made for a male perspective – the male gaze.

I wondered how much of that ‘for men’-ness had been subsumed by even the most discerning cinema-goers, and it made me question my own appetite for the kind of films that star a girl and a gun as their main plot devices (usually in service to a male character). Why was I simultaneously attracted and revulsed by this kind of imagery. And what did it mean for my feminism? So, the show was born.

CM: What was the motivation for having a largely unprepared co-performer on stage?
LO: I really want the show to provoke audiences to question their appetite for sex and violence on film. By using a male performer who’s never seen the script before, he becomes a sort of every-man for audiences to relate to. Through him, and watching his decision-making on stage, audiences might be able to reflect on what they would do too, if they were in his place.

It is made clear that even though he must follow the lines and stage directions from the autocue as fully as possible, he doesn’t have to do anything he is uncomfortable doing. Therefore, when the script begins to follow the same sort of patterns as any films that star women and sex and violence, the male performer finds himself having to make hard decisions about what he will and will not do. What is the difference in watching sex and violence in a dark cinema, and watching these things right before you acted out by strangers on a stage? I hope that in this way, audiences can begin to see the images that we so readily consume in film anew.

CM: I feel as though this has the potential to be fairly disturbing. Is performing it ever emotionally draining?
LO: This is a hard question to answer without giving too much away, but yes, the show can be quite hard to perform at times. Despite the fact that I am completely in control on stage, there is always a question mark over what my guest performer might bring to his character. Even when I’m expecting the worst, there have been times where I’ve been surprised at the level of aggression in one of my male performers, and have found myself feeling unsafe. Aside from this there is also a degree of pastoral care for my male performer that has to be undertaken too, and occasionally this can be quite demanding.

CM: How did you find actors willing to join you on stage blind, as it were? Can you tell us a bit about how previous performers have reacted to what you have asked them to do?
LO: Each venue that I perform at sends out a call out to their local network of performers. People seem quite up for it, as we’ve never had a problem finding candidates. Again, I can’t say too much, but I can say that largely the male performers fulfil the role to the letter. You can always clearly see a struggle in their decision-making, and there have been times where performers have declined to say lines, or follow stage directions, but largely I find they are willing. Of course, each man performs his role differently though, and this also changes the way I perform my role, so the show is genuinely completely different every night.

CM: Would you say it has an agenda, feminist or otherwise? Do you think it’s possible to change the way violence and sexism permeates pop culture?
LO: I’d say that the show is very clearly feminist in ethos. However, it’s important to me that I don’t make didactic work, so the way the show is written is deliberately ambiguous. In my mind this helps open up dialogue around the topic, and ensures that the audience feels part of the conversation. Nothing is black and white, so it would seem disingenuous to present it that way.

On top of this, the show is about a topic that I struggle with too, in parts, and so I’ve tried to make that struggle clear. How can I be a feminist and love the kind of classic cinema which demeans women? How can I embrace parts of my sexuality that seem masochistic or submissive and still feel clear that these are choices I’ve made on my own terms? How can a woman holding a gun ever truly be empowered if she is there solely for the titillation of men?

As for the second part of this question, I have to say YES, and that’s because it’s important to remain hopeful and remember that we can make a difference. I truly believe that a change is coming – we have so much more access to intelligent discussion on these kind of topics these days, and more than ever people are beginning to embrace feminist thinking and even the word itself. If we stay true to what we believe in, and keep questioning the ideas that are spoonfed to us through pop culture, soon enough a change will come.

CM: Your previous show ‘Pretty Ugly’ made quite an impact – do you feel as though it encouraged people to examine the issues addressed in it?
LO: Absolutely. Every time I perform the show I have people coming up to me afterwards to tell me how shocked they are to learn how teens using the internet, or to tell me that they have a younger sister, or niece, or grand-daughter that they have been inspired to talk to more.

When the press around the show went viral, I began receiving emails from people all over the world, not just young girls who were touched or inspired by the project, but adults and educators too.

Again, with that show, it was more about starting a discussion around a difficult topic, than solving problems. I have to remind people that I’m an artist – I don’t have all the answers, but perhaps I can inspire people to learn, and think, and talk a little more around difficult subjects.

CM: As you say, you are an artist rather than an actress. How did life take you in this direction? What inspired you take up this sort of career?
LO: When I left school I wanted to be an actress, a writer and an investigative journalist. Everyone told me that I’d have to choose, but somehow I feel as though I’ve managed to find a way of life that can combine all three of these things. I studied English and Drama at university and then went on to do a research MA in Performance, which really taught me to work on my own.

At some point I had thought about being an actress, but I soon realised that I wasn’t very good at taking direction. I’ve always been the kind of person that has very clear ideas about the kind of work I wanted to make and perform – basically, I’m a control-freak and wanted to be in control! It can be quite hard to define the work that I make and I think that’s because there aren’t any really clear boundaries to it – I generally make work about a topic that gets me riled, or a question that I feel needs answering, and that work could be presented in a gallery, in a theatre, or in someone’s headphones as they take the tube to work. The medium, whether that’s theatre, video installation or even a photographic series, has to link to and stay true to the research area. I think I’m pretty lucky to be able to work in this way- every day is new.

CM: What plans do you have for the future, and what’s coming up next?
LO: I’ll be touring ‘A Girl & A Gun’ until mid-December, although there might be a few sporadic tour dates next year too. And then the next thing is to get my head down and start making my new show. I started making it a few months ago, and have been quietly working on it at the same time as touring, so I’m looking forward to really getting my teeth stuck into its development next year. I can’t say too much now, but the new show will be looking at female desire, and it’s really exciting. It should be premiering next year around May – so watch this space!

‘A Girl & A Gun’ is on at Pleasance Theatre from 24-25 Nov, see the venue website here for more info.

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