Hoke’s Bluff: An interview with James Stenhouse

Give me a H.O.K.E.S-B.L.U.F.F! …We may be out of energy, but expect nothing less than a performance worthy of Bring It On when Action Hero bring their contemporary theatre piece inspired by American teen sports movies, Hoke’s Bluff to Bristol Old Vic Studio next week. In between cheers, we caught up with Action Hero Co-artistic Director, James Stenhouse and got the skinny on the show.

Can you tell me about Hoke’s Bluff? What can people expect from their evening?

You can expect a good night out! The show is funny and full of energy, and we’ve tried to make something that feels very live. We’re always keen to pay attention to popular culture and the ways in which it can shape who we are as individuals and as a society, the ways in which banal or superficial things can have hidden depths when looked at in a certain way. With Hoke’s Bluff we’ve turned our attention to teen flicks, the kinds of movies you wouldn’t necessarily admit to liking, the guilty pleasures! We wanted to dig up what it was about those movies, and the stories they tell, that draws us in against our better judgement. So the show is a guilty pleasure in some ways, there is popcorn and pom poms and a sentimental underdog tale, but we’ve tried to also draw out the poetry, the absurdity and the melancholy that sits beneath that shiny surface. So you get the best of both worlds really! Win win.

The show is massively inspired by teen flicks – the world of cliques and pom poms! – what is it that fascinates you about this corner of American culture?

We’re really compelled by quite how ubiquitous the stories are that small town America has sold to the world (and to itself). How the experiences of these high school kids can resonate profoundly with people whose lives bear no resemblance at all to that world. We’re generally just quite obsessed with American culture as a whole and the nostalgia and hope it cultivates. We often say we can’t understand why all art isn’t about America because it’s kind of in everything. All our experiences, whether they be recreational, political, philosophical or whatever, they’re all touched by America and the stories it tells to the world. In some ways, the small town high school sweethearts, the cheerleaders and the football quarterbacks are the poster boys/girls of the dream that America has bought the world with.

Hoke’s Bluff started life as part of Ferment Fortnight – can you tell me a little bit about how a scratch/work-in-progress showing works?

A work-in-progress showing is a way to test out material early on, in front of an audience, before its completely finished. We find them really helpful because our work is very reliant on the presence of the audience. In Hoke’s Bluff, for example, the audience become the crowd on the bleachers, cheering the team and waving flags. Its hard to rehearse that or know what’s going to work if you can’t do it in front of a proper audience. Most of us can probably recall experiences when we’ve been put on the spot or been asked to do something we don’t want to do, or we’ve felt uncomfortable in a performance, and that’s because those moments have to be done with a lot of care and sensitivity. You want to feel compelled to join in, or cheer, or wave your flag, you don’t want to feel coerced, and you need to feel like the performers have earned your input. That’s how all collaborations work really, and an audience/performer collaboration is no different. So to get it right we like to give ourselves time with audiences before the show is finished where we can refine these things in cohorts with audience members.

Since Ferment Fortnight you’ve had great success with the show – can you describe the process of elevating a work from a work-in-progress showing to a fully-fledged performance?

The Ferment audience really helped us finish Hoke’s Bluff and have it ready for Edinburgh. We did two performances at Ferment and the first one was way too long! It lasted forever and the audience were very patient with us, but politely let us know that it was way too long, so for the second night we cut lots of material and changed the shape of the piece a little bit and it had an immediate impact. That let us know we were heading in the right direction and before the Edinburgh fringe we just kept on moving in the same direction and refining what we’d presented at Ferment.

You’re heading out on a national tour, how does that feel? Is it good to get different reactions from different venues/locations?

I can’t wait to start performing Hoke’s Bluff across the country. We actually don’t often get the chance to show our work in the UK, and we perform our work abroad more than we do here, but British audiences can be some of the most rewarding, and putting the work in lots of different contexts is when you really learn what it is you’ve made!  Particularly because the audience is so integral to the world of Hoke’s Bluff it gets to a point where it really just needs to meet the crowds. Also the Edinburgh Fringe is a really great place to show your work and the show was really well received but it many ways an Edinburgh audience is not representative of wider UK audiences so we’re dead eager to see what happens on the tour!

Well, there’s definitely no ‘I’ in ‘team’ so come along to Bristol Old Vic Studio and cheer on the Wildcats!

Book tickets for performances between 8 – 11 October at bristololdvic.org.uk/hokesbluff!
Upcoming Tour Dates:

8-11 Oct Hoke’s Bluff Bristol Old Vic
14 Oct Hoke’s Bluff Axis Arts Centre, Crewe
16 Oct Hoke’s Bluff The Showroom, Chichester
21-22 Oct Hoke’s Bluff South Street Arts Centre, Reading
24-25 Oct Hoke’s Bluff Contact, Manchester
31-02 Nov Watch Me Fall Forest Fringe, Hong Kong
12 Nov Hoke’s Bluff The Performance Centre, Falmouth
15 Nov Hoke’s Bluff Brighton Dome
18-29 Nov Hoke’s Bluff Shoreditch Town Hall, London
2 Dec Hoke’s Bluff Aberystwyth Arts Centre
4-6 Dec Hoke’s Bluff Warwick Arts Centre
10 Dec Hoke’s Bluff        Peninsula Arts, Plymouth

actionhero.org.uk | @actionherolive | facebook: action hero | #illshowyoumine |http://illshowyoumine.org/

Watch the Hoke’s Bluff trailer here #HokesBluff #GoWildcats

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