Second year film student Conor Chamiec attended a workshop delivered by Action Hero as part of the Work in Progress project. The workshop focused on their previous work ‘Slap Talk’ and gave students an insight into the devising processes.

Action hero workshop review.

It was a bright but very cold day when this online workshop took place, during and after the workshop  I had a busy day bookended by anxiously awaiting results and the crushing monotony of my part time job. Not only that but I was the odd man out in the group as it was filled exclusively with people on a different degree strand to myself. I preface this to a right up of a workshop because I feel it was rather apt set-up for the tone that the main activities of the workshop which took place.

But that was later, to start we were introduced to Gemma Paintin and had a brief overview of her work with Action Hero mainly ‘Slap Talk’. ‘Slap Talk’ was a theatre piece performed across the UK notably during the Sick! Festival and Fierce festival as well as several events across Europe. The piece is a scripted four hour argument between two performers inspired by boxers self aggrandising during pre-fight weigh in’s. The action hero website refers to it as “Over 6 hours, an Autocue scrolls a continuous barrage of passive aggressive violence of lovers talking, the hard sell of a shopping channel, the anger of the fire and brimstone preacher, the subtle violence of middle class one-upmanship. The audience are free to enter and leave at any time during the performance”.

This was the biggest inspiration for the workshop, out first task was to go away and come up with insults free of context, I came up with the somewhat inappropriate line “I’d say something bad about your mum but I’ve met her and she seems nice, the only stupid thing she ever did was not go back for a second abortion after the first one clearly didn’t take with you”. The next part of workshop involved taking these context free lines and joining them with someone else’s in the group. Fortunately I had a friend in this workshop so I didn’t have to call a stranger a failed abortion… at least to their face.

To be critical, in such a way that isn’t entirely the fault of the organisers, this activity was incredibly awkward bordering on cringe inducing for two reasons. Reason one is rather simple, due to the covid restrictions moment to moment interaction is somewhat limited due to the workshop being forced to be online. At time of writing it seems we are exiting this lock-down soon so maybe with any hope this will not be a problem for any other workshops in the immediate future. The second criticism would probably be this, performative insults are rarely good if they don’t have some sort of direction, what I mean is that the group was given a prompt and left to our own devices, and while I see the benefits of this I do think it lead to some confusion or ambiguity in starting this back and forth.

I also now have to cease being fun for a moment to talk about a very real and serious thing that happened during the workshop. The word that begins with an ‘M’ and is used to describe people with ‘little people’ is considered a slur according to groups such as the ‘The association of Little people of America’. I bring this up because during the workshop one of the students  used the phrase to refer to themselves, and it was obvious even online that this descriptor was not suitable to them as they are not someone who is affected by ‘dwarfism’. This is to say that none of the supervisors brought this up or pointed out that this language was inappropriate. This I feel highlights a flaw in this workshop activity as with such little oversight or control of the group the task could spin into some uncomfortable or offensive areas. I’m not saying the organisers are bad people, rather I think this incident highlights a flaw in the structure of the workshop in which bad faith actors could exploit and cause some real harm.

That said, in it’s entirety, I think the workshop was very informative and gave some good insight into the creative process. The experience was unique and insightful and I think I walked away having fully received the intended emotions and experience. I enjoyed myself, but maybe a thing to improve up would be to focus on a slightly different task, one with less chance to offend or be discriminatory. Overall I think the intended experience was to provoke an angry emotional reaction from the participants and to understand how these emotions are conveyed within social spaces to which I feel the workshop excelled at very well.