Gemma Paintin and James Stenhouse have been working together as Action Hero since 2005 when we made ‘a show for a bar’ called A Western. A Western was made in our living room and our entire set and props-list was a bottle of ketchup and a cowboy hat. The show got seen by some people who asked us to do it again. More people saw it and more people asked us to do it. Then some people started to give us money to do it. We toured A Western all over the UK and then eventually all over the world. We performed it as far away as Tasmania, Vancouver and Bangkok.
We continued to make things together since that first show in a bar and the things we make get described in different ways. Theatre, Live Art, Installation, contemporary performance. It annoys our mums because they find it hard to tell the people they meet what we’re doing with our lives. It doesn’t help that everytime we make something it looks completely different. Sometimes its something big like Oh Europa where we drove to every country in Europe recording strangers singing love songs. Sometimes its not so big, like Extraordinary Rendition which is for one audience member at a time. We’ve built cities out of paper in Japan, we’ve performed a home-made stunt show in Sarajevo, we’ve argued in front of a video camera for 6 hours in Peru. We’ve DJ’d in music festivals for 100s of people dressed as cardboard robots, we’ve made a theatre show that combines American Sports with all the teen movies you’ve ever seen (the show even has its own mascot), we’ve made a show which was so loud it required the audience to wear earplugs. We once invited people to sit on their own in a box with a smoke machine and a set of disco lights. We once did a show for 20 people in a forest around a campfire.
Although really different in form and scale there are common threads that connect all the work we’ve made. The desire to bring people together, to share moments and collaborate hopefully (usually within frames drawn from popular/folk culture) weighed against the ambient violence inherent in any entertainment or cultural experience borne out of late capitalism. We’re cynical optimists (or hopeful pessimists) and we’re committed to hopeful acts even if they’re sometimes only fleeting in amongst a harsher reality we’re trying to articulate.
‘Whether you think of it as a disaster or not, it is undeniable that capitalism has produced an awful lot of wreckage….I think of Action Hero as dedicated sifters through this unholy mountain, committed to making something new out of the trash they find there.’ Maddy Costa
Despite our mums not being able to describe what we do we’ve presented our work at some of the most prestigious venues for performance and arts practice in the world including PS122 in New York, Theatre De La Ville in Paris, Shanghai Grand Theatre and the 21st Century Museum in Japan. Our work is taught about at undergraduate and postgraduate level at universities throughout the world and is included as part of Routledges 21st Century Performance Reader
In 2013 we were really proud to win an Austin (Texas) Critic’s Table Award for Watch Me Fall, and in 2016 we were shortlisted for the Anti Festival International Prize for Live Art for our contribution to the field. Since 2018 we’ve been an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation.
If you’d like to read more about our work you can buy our book Action Plans, published by Oberon, which includes an introduction by Prof Carl Lavery and texts from 6 of our performance works.