action hero news

The life of a crash helmet
July 12, 2011, 3:50 pm
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I wrote this in pen on the back of a contract whilst I was bored on a flight from Bilbao to Brussels on 1st July 2011. I thought I’d write it up online.

Last night I made an unsuccessful attempt to jump a fountain of diet coke on a child’s bicycle for the 33rd time. The ramp was positioned too close to a pillar, I went over the handlebars and collided head first with the corner of the pillar. The sound of the collision provoked a gasp from the crowd followed by silence. I was unhurt though because I was wearing a crash helmet. I’m making one more jump with this helmet in Manchester before buying a new one., and the decision to replace it has made me look at it closely and I realise I’ve fallen in love with it as an object. It carries the marks from all the 33 performances its been part of. Big gouges and sweeping scratches scar most of one side. The traces left from Gemma’s high heels. The top is scalded and burnt from being set alight over and over. Its started to blister and flake and the number one that used to be emblazoned in the colours of the U.S flag on the front is almost all gone. A victim of the white spirit used to clean away the remnants of the flame gel. A new scratch marks the place where my head met the pillar last night. Like the show it reveals a dirty reality behind the spectacle. It looks worn, tired and faded. But there’s a glimmer of something heroic about it that makes me want to keep it or show it off. There’s something romantic about its unglamorous scuffs and burns. We’ve carried it with us on exciting journeys to New York, Paris and Barcelona but Its also been with us to Colchester, Chichester, Leeds and Crewe. Its been in the boot of a broken down car on the side of the A1 in January and unable to start in the fog and drizzle of the Pyrenees. Its been soaked in coca cola and gone moldy in the basement of an old police station in Bristol. Its life replicating the pathetic desperation of Evel Knievel’s broken bones in dead end mid-Western U.S towns. The subject of thousands of photographs taken by audience members it sometimes is the only thing you can see on the developed film, reflecting the light from a theatre rig in Aberystwyth, a tunnel in London, a club in Glasgow, a gallery in St Etienne. Like the surface level glamour of big jumps in Las Vegas and Wembley stadium you can’t see its burn marks and shoddy stickers peeling off.

We have to replace the helmet because its started to fail. For so long it has stoically deflected the kicks from Gemma’s left and right feet while I’ve felt nothing except a disconcerting shove. No pain, no headaches. But recently it hasn’t felt quite so tough. I can feel the heel when it strikes and it sends a gasp of air from my lungs. I can hear the crackling of the fire as it burns above my head. Once it can’t take a beating anymore its useless. So we’re looking for a shiny new one to take to Edinburgh in August and because the old one no longer has a role to play in our home made stunt show its made its last fly. But I feel like I can’t throw it away. I feel attached to it. I want to exhibit it on a plinth and celebrate its life spent protecting my head from self-inflicted idiocy. Its such a wonderful document of our show but also of our life in the last few years. The absurdity of jumping over mentoes fountains off a wooden ramp for a living. Standing in front of a room full of strangers, getting my head kicked in over and over again while people take photos and grin. I’ve poured 64 litres of coca cola into my partners mouth. I’ve been put out by a fire extinguisher, I’ve run around naked from the waist up and bleeding trying to pick up ping pong balls from under the feet of clubbers on a dancefloor in Glasgow. I’ve watched Gemma break her arm in Newcastle, sat on the side of a Spanish motorway in +30 degree heat watching smoke stream from the bonnet. I’ve washed cola out of my jeans in the laundromats of New York, France and Wales. I’ve had beer bottles thrown at my head, I’ve been stood on by a drunk, I’ve loaded a ramp and a child’s bicycle into my car and unloaded it and loaded it and unloaded it and loaded it and unloaded it and carried it on a subway and loaded it again and unloaded it over and over again. The helmet has been with me all the way and when I look at it now it looks completely ridiculous, completely stupid, completely brilliant.

gigs in May and June

A Western – May 3rd at Seven Arts in Leeds

Watch Me Fall – June 1st – June 2nd at PS122 New York

Watch Me Fall – June 14th – 16th at Theatre de la Ville Paris

Watch Me Fall – June 30th at Intacto festival, Spain

upcoming performances

A Western

11th and 12th AugustKilkenny Festival, Kytelers Inn, Ireland at 6:30pm, doors open 6pm

13th, 14th and 15th SeptemberTobacco Factory bar, Bristol

18th, 19th and 20th OctoberOxford Playhouse, Angel and Greyhound pub, St Clements Street 19:30pm

Watch Me Fall

16th NovemberJunction, Cambridge

11th DecemberMade in Britain, St Etienne

Shunt Fun

So now I know the true meaning of ‘the baying mob’.

Before we performed ‘Watch Me Fall’ at Shunt we were warned that on a Friday night at 10pm it was a bit of a bear pit. We thought we’d take it on as a challenge and thought it would be a good exercise for the development of the show. The idea being that the risk and energy of the space would teach us lessons about the material.

Well we definitely learned a few lessons.

The audience were a chaotic mix of aggressive interventionists, apathetic bystanders, flailing drunks and anguished sympathisers watching the tragedy unfold before them. As soon as we started it was clear we were in for a rough ride, and the intricate subtleties we had been working on were immediatley thrown out the window. It was only going to be broad strokes that could carry us through and when even setting yourself on fire is not quite enough of a broad stroke, you know its going to be a long night.

To give you an accurate picture of the audience we were facing, the bicycle we use to make the jump was stolen halfway through the show and had to be retrieved by a bouncer. As were the safety elbow and knee pads I need to wear. The bouncers managed to retrieve the elbow pads, but not the knee pads (which accounts for the large bruise and cut I’m now nursing on my knee). We were shouted at, abused, pushed, ignored, yet still, in amongst the chaos, there were moments of glory that carried us through.

The theme of futility was pushed beautifully to the forefront of the piece as we persistently tried our best to win the audience over to little or no avail. With rowsing speeches that became desperate pleas the folly in the act was exaggerated to new heights,  helping to emphasise the content we’re currently exploring. The arrogant young clubbers who postured and paraded themselves throughout the show served as perfect exemplars for the obnoxious, aggressive, masculine ideal we were attempting to crash land.

When you set out to use audiences as collaborators you have to except that you are going to come across audiences who want it all on their terms. Friday nights audience wanted flame and spectacle and when they didn’t get it they felt cheated and weren’t prepared to take the embarrasingly cheap subsitute we were offering. So they bayed and drunkenly staggered across our work, stamping their own authority of mass upon it and they’ve left an indelible mark on the piece that we are indebted to them for.

Both us as performers and a faction of the audience who were willing to collaborate got a truly unique experience from the event. A rock and roll car crash with two tragic heroes at its heart, whimpering and straining to be heard, moving from one hilariously futile attempt to the next. At various moments I looked into the eyes of audience members who looked back with deep, deep pity in the eyes and a worn out grin that said, “I’m not sure you’re going to make it”. For that fleeting moment, I loved them and I think they loved me.

Thank you Shunt.

Bring on the next work-in-progress.

Action Hero at Edinburgh Forest Fringe
May 25, 2008, 6:51 pm
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Edinburgh has never been on the cards for us in the past because of the massive costs involved being unfeasible for a company as small as us but this year we’re going to be involved thanks to the brilliant ‘Forest Fringe’. Its a neat idea that means companies can perform for free and outside the competitive meat market that is the Fringe. We’ll be there for a few days performing a work-in-progress of our as yet un-named new piece that we showed an initial sketch of at Arnolfini’s ‘I am your Worst Nightmare’ (the re-enaction of Evel Knievel’s 1967 Caesar’s Palace jump). The nature of the Forest Fringe means we can spend some time working on the show and show it in front of a good natured, thrill-seeking Edinburgh audience without the horrible pressures and financial commitments that go with a normal Edinburgh show. Although I’ve been to Edinburgh as an audience member quite a lot I’ve never performed there and I’ve often noted how it really lacks an actual ‘Fringe’ in the truest experimental sense of the word, which is a shame considering how many audience members there are there eager for new and exciting work so hopefully the Forest Fringe can change all that. Look out for more details of exact dates etc but in the mean time have a look at Lyn Gardner’s blog about it