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Action Hero

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Listed as: Theatre Company

info [at]


11 St Nicholas Street
South West
live art

Action Hero is the collaboration of artists Gemma Paintin and James Stenhouse. We have been working together as Action Hero since 2005. We create events that use the audience as the co-creators of the work. We are interested in ideas that link audiences together and unify them as part of a live event, and the building of temporary communities. Our process is defined by necessity: Limited resources have created an aesthetic of roughness and intimacy that has become central to our work. We also have a long standing obsession with America and pop culture.

We have performed our work all across the UK and in the U.S, Brazil, China, Germany, Austria, Bosnia, Thailand, Canada, Portugal, Spain and France.

Action Hero are members of Residence. A collective of theatre makers and live artists who share space, resources, good and bad times in a disused record shop in Bristol.

Key Projects

A Western

In a bar two performers re-enact scenes from Western films. They use the architecture of the bar space and the audience around them to re-create the familiar iconic scenes that are lodged somewhere in all our memories. The space is continually re-invented and used as another member of the cast and using only a cowboy hat and a few bottles of ketchup the performers engage the audience in an impossible attempt to suggest grandiose landscapes, a cast of thousands and endlessly fading sunsets. The barman slides a shot of whisky down the bar, the card table gets turned over, the stranger rides into town on his horse. Together with their audience the two performers play out each of these familiar scenes. In their failure to reach the epic scope of the cinematic blockbuster they celebrate the failure of generic heroes, cheap whores and the all American idol.

Watch Me Fall

At the centre of Watch Me Fall is the recreation, or rather retranslation, of an Evel Knievel motorcycle stunt. With two banks of audience standing astride a strip of stage, making their presence felt through the flash and wind of cameras, the show is a series of tension-building home-made stunts leading to an inevitable fall from grace in a final ego bulging bravado filled anti-climax. The performers stand arms-raised and high-five their public, they set helmets alight, they hold two bottles of cola in outstretched arms for as long as they are able, they kick each other in the head. This time, they assure us, they are going further, going higher and going faster than ever before. At first team-mates and partners, the two performers grow increasingly hostile with each other and as the injuries mount up and the acts become more violent, the audience are forced to question what they are prepared to watch in the name of entertainment.


Frontman is a barrage of ear-splitting, raucous and noisy echoes that could replay all night. As your self-appointed hero re-works a reverie of enthusiastic amateurism, playing out a personal fantasia of stage dives and all night gigs the possibility emerges that this wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. Backed by an analogue synth and a tambourine, your frontman transmits endless replicas of rhetoric, love and noise in the hope that something might happen. Something might build. We might just find something to sing about. Frontman is the third piece in an unintentional trilogy of work dealing with the iconography of masculinity and the complicity of an audience in the creation of an epic. Frontman is co-commissioned by Inbetween Time Productions and Fierce! Its development was supported by Forest Fringe, Mayfest and Residence. Sound support has been provided by Alex Bradley

Hoke's Bluff

We’re giving the crowd an H! We’re giving the crowd an O! We’re giving the crowd a K! We’re giving the crowd an E! We’re giving the crowd an S! We’re giving the crowd a B! We’re giving the crowd an L! We’re giving the crowd a U! We’re giving the crowd an F! We’re giving the crowd another F! Everything rests on this one free throw. On this one last shot. On this power play. On these last few seconds. Action Hero have got their game face on. Bring it. With a nostalgic yearning for the simplicity of a world that never really existed, Hoke’s Bluff meets its audience on the bleachers and tells them an underdog story that’s been told a million times before. By shifting and rearranging the trite narratives of high school storylines and inspiring locker room speeches, Action Hero use hackneyed formulas and cheap sentimentality to find out what it means to be a winner (on the inside). Co-produced by China Plate and Warwick Arts Centre. Co-commissioned by Bristol Ferment at Bristol Old Vic. Action Hero are supported by Theatre Bristol’s Company Producer.

Slap Talk

James and Gemma are getting ready for a fight. This is the press conference. The cameras are rolling. An autocue scrolls relentlessly. As the insults and self aggrandizing become more and more extreme the conversation becomes a linguistic version of the fight itself and then of life itself. This is a durational piece of work that we hope will eventually last 24 hours. The audience is free to come and go as they please. James and Gemma are a couple, and their artistic process often resorts to fighting.

Key Personnel

James Stenhouse
Gemma Paintin