Artist, researcher and performer Louise Orwin’s hit show, A Girl & A Gun takes the famous Jean Luc Godard quote – ‘All I need to make a film is a girl and a gun’ as the starting point for a witty, fun and unflinchingly provocative show.
The cuttingly sharp satirical script challenges films that use girls and guns as easy plot devices and the audiences that watch them. It features Louise and a different male co-star at every performance who is seeing the script for the first time, reading his lines from autocue.
We spoke to Louise Orwin to find out more.
You’re bringing A Girl and a Gun to The Vaults, what can you tell us about it?
A Girl and A Gun is my ode to and live on stage deconstruction of cinema. It looks at b-movies, the new wave, Godard, Tarantino, and our relationship to women and violence on film. It begins with Jean Luc Godard’s famous quote: ‘All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun’, and wonders whether he was right.
In an age of binge-watching Netflix, access to porn on your phone, and increasing appetites for violence in cinema and on television, the show asks an audience to consider their own appetite for violence. It wonders about de-sensitization, about the allure of ‘cool’, about the sexual politics of violence on film, and it wants to know: where do we draw the line?
The show is performed every night by me and a new male performer who’s never seen the script before. We both read from a rolling autocue, and two live cameras on stage capture the action and feed it into an image projected at the back of the stage. This way the audience can see both the cinematic images we are making together, and the process in which they’re made. The male performer is told that he should perform the role as fully as possible, but that he shouldn’t feel obliged to do anything he’s not comfortable with. The audience are in on it too, so they get to see his live decision making process as the show goes on, something which becomes more and more nail biting as the things he’s asked to do become increasingly ethically difficult.
The show is littered with references for film buffs, and is fun, dark, playful, and hard to turn your eyes away from. Most audiences leave feeling they’ve been ‘part of something’.
What inspired you to write it?
I began making the show after I started re-thinking Jean Luc Godard’s famous quote: ‘All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.’ I’ve always been a massive fan of film, and of the French new wave in particular, but as my politics developed I couldn’t get Godard’s words out of my head. I wondered whether there was a clue in his words as to who he was making film for. It made me totally re-appraise my appetite for films, and especially those which star a girl and a gun as their main plot devices. I wondered how I could be attracted to and repulsed by film at the same time, and what this ambiguity might mean for my politics and for culture at large. One of the main themes of the show is asking us to consider gender tropes that are spoon-fed to us by cinema, and whether these can ever be radical or empowering, or whether they will always be used to re-instate toxic gender norms. Is there a way I can perform the hyper-sexualised femme fatale on stage and still be empowered? 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.
You perform with a different male co-star every night, and they haven’t seen the script! how does that work?
We cast from an open call out before the show, and then I meet my co-star 15 minutes before the show starts every night. In those 15 minutes I brief him on everything he needs to know about the show without giving anything away: that he will be reading and following all his lines and stage directions from a rolling autocue, where the mic is, where he should stand etc. And then we go over the most important aspect of the briefing: he is told that he should only perform the role as far as he is comfortable. This really is the crux of the show. He is given the bare bones of his role (the lines and stage directions) but it is up to him as to whether and how he follows out these suggestions. This element makes the show impossibly live. The audience understands that everything he does on stage is his decision: they get to witness his live decision making. And ultimately the outcome of the show is down to him. It can be quite a white knuckle ride for everyone involved.
Does the structure ever cause anything to go wrong?
There are definitely moments of trip ups and failure during the show, but that’s part of the point of the show. The script presents to us stereotypical film roles and presentations of gender which would (or should) seem ridiculous in the real world. The moments of ‘failure’ in the show reveal how difficult it can be to live up to these gender clichés presented to us by pop culture.
I designed the show to be a true experiment in this way- so I have to say, it can’t really ever go wrong. However the show turns out it’s fascinating to watch the decision making of the performers on stage, and what those gaps in between the script and the performance can reveal about the world we live in.
Does it take the same to make a good play, as it does to make a good movie?
I guess you’d have to come and see the show to find out!
But seriously, yes and no. I think you can get away with a lot more on film, whereas theatre makes you work harder. Watching a film can be like daydreaming for 90 minutes, whereas a good piece of theatre has the added element of live-ness that can shake you to your core. In good theatre you are a witness, you are part of a temporary community, and there is the ever-present danger of things going wrong, or the unexpected. This is one of my favourite feelings in the world- I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie in that way.
What do you think Jean Luc Godard would make of a Girl and a Gun?
I think he’d take a long drag of a cigarette and then speak in a low French drawl: ‘C’est super chouette’.
A Girl & A Gun: Louise Orwin 14, 15, 16, 17 March 19.20, 18 March 14.55 and 19.20
London The Vaults, Leake St, London SE1 7NN 07598 676 202.