What's A Girl And A Gun about?
It’s about how we view women in film, so it looks at the mainstream cinema we all love and are familiar with, so cinema from Goddard in the sixties right through to Tarantino today, and all the movie incarnations you get in between. It looks at how you create roles for men and women in film - how we have an appetite for violence and specifically asking why we have that appetite.
What film in particular drew your attention to the idea?
I watched Spring Breakers, and there’s this scene in it where these teenage girls are riding round on a gangster bed with money, and they start to perform all of these sexual actions with guns and that stuck in my mind. At the same time the music video with Beyoncé and Lady Gaga for the song Videophone came out, and that stars them prancing around in leotards with these multi-coloured, hyper-feminised guns.
I also came across the work of this B movie film maker called Andy Sidaris. He has this massive following in the UK and the US, and he basically just makes film after film with Playboy bunnies running around in camo gear with massive guns. I had this moment where I was seeing this same image, the girl with the gun. It really interested me, because on the one hand it seemed quite simple to see why the image appeared – it’s super sexy and has this taste of violence.
Another thing that’s interesting is that when you see a girl with a gun it could be quite easy to say that she’s really powerful, but when you ask who that picture is for then her power is stripped away from her - with a woman with a gun in a bikini looks like that image is more created for men rather than women. It got me thinking about how these images are created, who they are created for, what it says about the culture that creates them, and also why do we suck them up, men and women? For example, I’m a strident feminist, but there is something about that image which to me is attractive but repulsive, so I just wanted to make a show about the allure of that image.
So it’s about the line between sex and violence?
From the title, it seems obvious what it’s about, but once you see the show you see that it’s not just how women are asked to step into the role, it’s also how the idea behind the male action figure is an entrapment as much as the female counterpart is as well. The show is set out to show these cliché roles but it does interrogate the idea behind the male counterpart as much as the female role.
Speaking of that, you have a new male actor in every city - what’s the idea behind it?
I spent three weeks watching all of these films, and after that I set out to write a film script for myself, which is something that I have never done before. I thought it would be an interesting experiment, and what came out of that writing process was a film script which is a kind of love story between a male and a female, him and her. I guess the film script I’ve written feels like something really familiar to anyone that has seen Tarantino films or west end or anything like that.
The interesting thing for me was these roles that are so familiar to us, although quite hard to sort of act out ourselves. The idea is that you put an everyman into that role, and you ask him to say these lines, and you ask him to do these actions, but the interesting thing is whether he would go through with them – he may have seen someone perform these actions or say these lines, but when he’s asked to do it live in front of an audience, what decisions would he make? So it kind of asks when we ourselves try to the fulfil the roles that are seen on cinema
What has it been like acting with someone new?
It’s probably nicer for the audience seeing someone unprepared going into the role. It’s made very explicit in the show that this man is coming in and he’s never seen this script before and he’s going to have to act it out in front of them. It creates a nice pace-off between the audience and that main actor. For me, for a lot of my role, I’ve done it quite a few times now, there’s definitely a bit of trepidation with what he’s going to do, because its also made explicit that he can go whatever way with it.
He can go along with those actions and say those lines, but if he’s not comfortable with it then he doesn’t have to do it, so at the beginning of the show, I’m always like, “Oh God, this is going to be the one where he decides he doesn’t want to do any of it,’ but then again that’s also part of the game.
I’m quite resigned to it all being like a true experiment in that whatever happens, happens. The outcome is interesting either way because you can explicitly see the things that he’s asked to do, and the things that he might not do or will do, or the things that he takes a bit too far. It’s interesting either way, but you definitely have to learn to be very flexible.
The film script is very clear, and the audience not only sees the lines that we’re reading but they also see the stage directions. They see everything that should be happening, and before them - with the live performers - they’ll see what is actually happening
How do you use film in the show?
There are two cameras in the show, one that is sat in the audience, and one which is sat to the side of the stage, and they both have a constant live feed coming from them. Onto the back hall onto the stage, above the two performers, you can see a split screen of the action the whole time… it creates a really nice outside process where they can see the inner working of how the film is made, and that’s what’s interesting for me.
That allure of cool of cinema, and how you may see this gorgeous, beautiful woman on screen who is lit really well and there’s a close up of her face which makes her lips look bigger, whereas actually in real life she may not look anything like that. It’s just the way the magic happens with film making.
Do you think the camera has been misappropriated to help objectify women?
There’s been so much written over the years about the male gaze and the camera and yeah, I suppose you could say that it has been misappropriated to objectify women. But I think that it’s not only the fault of the camera itself - you have to address the people that are using the camera. I think we just live in a visual society, and images are so powerful to us, and it’s almost a shame that cameras aren’t used for other, better reasons than to objectify women.
There’s also the idea that the only way to show strength in women in film is to connect them with violence and sex…
One of the things I’m interested in is the archetype of the femme fatale – how that seems like a double edged sword. From the outside it looks like she’s super-powerful, and she uses sex and weapons, but I’m looking at who these images are created for and I don’t think they’re created for women. That’s almost a conspiracy, these women gobble up these images and think in order to be powerful they need to be sexy and act like a man to a certain extent, so the show does explore that as well, but it also does explore the vulnerability that can come with assuming those roles.
So one of the things that the show looks at specifically is how violence against women is hyper-sexualized. An idea that I feel I gobbled up from a young age is there’s something sexy and alluring about the Ophelia character or the dying beautiful women. A lot of my work to date has dealt with the idea of masochism for women as well. Whether there’s it’s a power that comes from masochism saying, “No, I’m gonna lay myself down and let you do whatever you want to me,” or whether it is just another patriarchal conspiracy.
Are there any films that you watched recently that you think managed to create strong women characters without falling into this trap?
Yes – Ghostbusters! I went to see it a few weeks ago and loved it. I know it has had criticism when it comes to how they present race in the film, but I just thought it’s so rare to see a film which is written from a female perspective, where the women don’t have to be seen as sexy, or virgins. They don’t have to be super clever all the time, they’re allowed to be human rather than archetypes. It would be so wonderful if little girls would go see that film and run around pretending to be these characters, instead of running around falling over being princesses waiting for their knight in shining armour.