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22 - 24 April
Action Hero and Deborah Pearson

The Talent


22 - 24 April

Friday and Saturday 7.30PM
Sunday 5PM

With Portuguese surtitles for deaf people

23rd April after the performance at Sala Manuela Porto
Moderator: Maria Sequeira Mendes

Price 14€
Under 25 years old: 5€
Main Auditorium
Length 90min

Age restriction:

To be age rated by CCE

Created and written by Gemma Paintin, James Stenhouse and Deborah Pearson
Performed by  Gemma Paintin, Deborah Pearson and James Stenhouse
Sound design Yas Clarke
Lighting design Alex Fernandes
Set Design Camilla Clarke
Dramaturgy Tania El Khoury
Producer for Action Hero Sarah Warden
The Talent is co-commissioned by Teatro do Biarro Alto (PT), South Street Arts and University of Reading (UK) and Cambridge Junction (UK)
Developed at PACT Zollverein
Supported by Bristol Old Vic Ferment
With thanks to University of Bristol Drama Department, QMUL School of English and Drama and The Yard
With funding from Arts Council England

Access conditions

  • It is mandatory to wear a face mask inside the building before, during and after the sessions
  • Disinfect hands and adopt proper respiratory hygiene
  • Keep a safe distance and avoid crowding people
  • Bring your ticket from home or, if you really need to buy the ticket at TBA, choose contactless payment by debit card or MBway.
  • At entrances and exits, follow the recommendations of the TBA team

Action Hero is the collaboration between artists Gemma Paintin and James Stenhouse. Together they create artworks that expand across multiple creative practices: performance, installation, sound, digital practice and work for public space.

Action Hero’s long-form collaborative partnership has taken them to nearly 40 countries across Europe, North America, South America, Asia and Australia and to places as diverse as PS122 in New York, Theatre De La Ville in Paris, 21st Century Museum in Japan, an abandoned art deco cinema in Bangkok and a Satan’s Riders Motorcycle Clubhouse in Tasmania. Their ongoing interests lie in the iconography of popular culture and its use; both as a weapon and as a shared cultural memory, and the languages/texts that are used to talk about these shared spaces.

The artists’ work is always engaged with how people meet in the live moment, and how human-to-human exchange takes place within the frame of an artwork. They regularly work with processes and mediums with which they are unfamiliar, which often sees them navigating through new technical and creative territories.

They won an Austin (Texas) Critic’s Table Award for Best Touring Show, and were shortlisted for the 2016 Anti Festival International Prize for Live Art. They have two books published by Oberon, and have written essays for several more, including the 21st Century Performance Reader. They’ve taught at undergraduate and postgraduate level as visiting lecturers at several UK universities, and have led master classes world-wide.

Action Hero are currently an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation. They are members of artist collectives Residence, The Brunswick Club and are long-time collaborators of Forest Fringe. They live in Bristol, UK.

Deborah Pearson is an artist, writer and curator and founder and co-director of Forest Fringe. Forest Fringe facilitates international exchanges between artists and ran an experimental venue at the Edinburgh Festival for ten years. Deborah’s artistic work has been staged in over twenty countries at festivals and venues throughout Europe, North America, South America, the Middle East, Australasia and Asia. In Portugal she frequently collaborates with mala voadora and has presented work at Teatro Nacional Donna Maria II (MON€Y and Os Anciãos) and Culturgest (Like You Were Before, The Future Show, History History History). In 2017 her show History History History was named in the top ten performances of the year by Público. She holds a practice-based PhD from Royal Holloway where she was a Reid Scholar and is currently Senior Lecturer of Dramaturgy at University of the Arts London. She also works as a voiceover artist under a pseudonym and was dialogue director for the Alexa game When In Rome. Two details that have never been relevant to mention in a theatre bio until now.

Capitalism is that person you know who never stops talking, no matter how dark or inappropriate the circumstances. They can’t stand unexplained silences. All silences must exist in context, a context that can take over. When we first began working on a show about a voiceover artist in December of 2019, we discussed capitalism a lot. We were interested in its amorality, its endless hollow creativity, its homogenised approach to diversity and its wendigo-like tendency to absorb and reconfigure everything that crosses its path. What we did not feel viscerally at that point, and what we did not begin discussing urgently until the pandemic began, was its horrific resilience. No matter how chaotic the situation, capitalism would just not shut up. And the voice it spoke with was easy-breezy, authoritative, confident, warm, or relaxed, depending on the copy.
The Talent did not set out to be a show about the pandemic, and it is still not a show about the pandemic. But it is a show that undeniably lived through a pandemic. And it is a show about a system that will stubbornly live through more.
I have been working “on the side” as a commercial voiceover artist (under a pseudonym) since 2015. During the last trimester of my pregnancy I was “shielding” during lockdown. I had a microphone at home, called a “home studio” in the industry, and suddenly this on-the-side gig became my most consistent source of income. Where my performance work ground to a halt, in voiceover, business was booming. I still remember a session where I was asked to record some copy about grief and isolation. The line I had to read was about longing for someone you love. The details of that session, (like so much that happened in the first lockdown) are hazy now. I’m grateful for that, because it was probably the most compromised I’ve ever felt while working. But I stepped back from that compromised feeling. So little felt ethically clear at that time anyway. I remembered earlier on in my pregnancy when I worried about people touching my belly without asking. Sat at that microphone I thought about how no one had touched me or even really seen me for months aside from my midwives, my husband, and my cat. I looked at the microphone and thought about the longing. I thought about the people I loved. I did my best to speak the words with feeling.
This was not a show about loneliness when we were working on it in late 2019 and early 2020. But bit by bit the loneliness crept in – it crept into our lives and it crept into the show. A silliness and ridiculousness crept in too. Jim Stenhouse and I leaned pretty far into that almost feverish absurdity as the ever decaying, transmogrifying voices of the directors. The last few years have been incredibly surreal, after all. But what stayed consistent was the adaptability of The Talent. Gemma’s work in this show is virtuosic. She does 27 different voices in the course of an hour. She is endlessly capable, professional and amenable, even when there is no one left to be capable, professional and amenable for. She can sound easy-breezy, authoritative, confident, warm or relaxed, depending on the copy. And although she is alone, she is building something in collaboration with that booth. She is helping it to sound kind of human, but only kind of.
And the booth is helping Gemma too. In fact, it’s a lifeline. Gemma’s talent is prompted and held by a context, and maybe that context is the source of her endless capabilities. That person you know who never stops talking can be a comforting presence, after all. Even if you know the best response would probably be silence.

Deborah Pearson

A woman in a sound booth is talking. She is talking to herself. She is talking to you. She is talking to everyone. She is gifted, professional, mercurial; it seems as if she can summon almost any kind of voice and create any kind of world.

She is selling you something
She is telling you a story
She sounds like a cereal ad
She sounds like a cartoon
She sounds like a meditation tape
She sounds like a shapeshifter
She sounds like the ocean

You would listen to her say anything. Her voice is all around. Her voice is all there is. Her voice is all that’s left. She conjures her own ghost in real time.

The Talent is a new show by Action Hero and Deborah Pearson about the legacy of the human voice in a non-human future.

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