Does playing console games make us more violent as individuals? Does it make us more detached, less responsible for our actions, less moral, less human? Is it part of the world which has given us drone warfare? Owl Young is a writer and performer who wonders about all of these things, so much so that he’s now touring the country with Iron M.A.M. sharing his thoughts, feelings and confessions with the rest of us.
After graduating from the University of Chichester with a 1st class degree in Performing Arts, Owl began an MA in Directing at the University of East London and has since been developing Iron M.A.M. at Camden People’s Theatre, as part of their prestigious Starting Blocks 2015 programme for new performance.
He’s part of Bring Your Own Theatre Collective - a new theatre company featuring the original work of Owl, Jordan Guilfoy-Richards and Andrew Woods - and has worked with Pete Phillips of Search Party, Rob Daniels of Bootworks Theatre and solo artist Brian Lobel, who have all contributed to his projects.
In-between jumping in and out of tour buses and lobbing missiles at his audience, we grabbed 5 minutes to talk about the show, DIY technology and ordering coffee.
How would you describe Iron M.A.M. in 3 words?
Explosions, paper-airplanes & collateral damage. (More than 3, I know).
You took a year to research and refine Iron M.A.M, how did you stay focused on the end goal? Were there any times when you got off track, or any discoveries that really changed how you were shaping the piece?
I was quite lucky in the support I received. I managed to get onto a programme at Camden People’s Theatre, which gave me access to a network of artists for advice and guidance.
It’s hard to devise solo work because it’s actually quite lonely. That is the hardest part, I think, which can sometimes go off-track. I was also lucky enough to see the Gate Theatre’s production of Grounded, and meet Lucy Ellison who plays the leads. She gave me a lot of advice and insight that really helped form the show.
What kick started your ideas for the show? Iron Man or drone warfare?
I had both of those things floating around at the same time. I’d read an article about drone warfare which introduced me to the subject and I became fascinated with the technology and the people who pilot these things. This happened to be around summer blockbuster time, so Iron Man 3 had just been released. I saw it, and in that movie, Tony Stark controls his suits remotely. Both ideas just clicked.
How much of the ‘real Owl’ do we get to see in the performance?
Quite a lot more than I had anticipated when I began making the show. There’s a personal narrative written into the story, which I only included after having spent so long talking about the violence and deaths of other people. I sort of thought to myself: ‘what right do I have to talk about these other people’s lives and deaths?’ I decided that it was only fair to offer something of myself to the story, in exchange for the right to talk about them. It’s also useful for giving the audience a way into the material, through me.
Iron M.A.M uses some integrated technology, have there been any instances of dreaded 'tech issues’ during a performance? If so, how do you cope with that live?
Surprisingly, not yet. We had some trouble in Plymouth because the VGA cable connecting my laptop to the projector was malfunctioning. Luckily, the technician at The House managed to jury-rig something out of components I’ve never even heard of.
So far, nothing’s occurred during the show, probably because I’m the one who’s made all the tech, so I know it all very precisely. There are over 400 cues in the show, and I programmed each one individually. If it goes wrong, I have no one to blame but myself.
That said, there has been human error. Because I’m controlling every cue myself, I’ve had instances of ‘double-tapping’ where I accidentally skip a cue. I’ve got a way of going back and doing it again, and in a way, it actually helps to win the audience over. It’s part of the charm of seeing live art.
Can you imagine the show without audience interaction?
The very first 20-minute concept of the show had no audience interaction at all, and it was (in my opinion) quite dull. I also hate calling it ‘audience interaction’ because that frightens people away. It’s more accurate to say that the audience just helps me run the show, by triggering explosions, throwing things at each other and playing virtual paintball with me.
Do you think it’s important that people become more aware of the reality of drone warfare related issues?
Absolutely. I’m not saying that we’re going to change anything, and in fact there are activists and organisations out there trying to do just that. All I care about is information, and trying to inform as many people as possible. We can’t even begin to make informed decisions about things when we don’t know what they are.
Do you feel drone warfare has helped perpetuate the conflict in the Middle East?
Right, let’s see if my first class degree in performing arts has adequately equipped me with the skills to answer that question! I think that there may always be conflict in the Middle East, for one reason or another. Drones are just the latest weapon that western governments have brought to the conflict, and one that decreases the risk to their own soldiers.
What I will say is that it’s been shown that children in middle-eastern countries like Pakistan, for example, are now terrified of the sight of drones patrolling the sky. They have nightmare about them.
Do you think that we are desensitised to this, through movies/video games?
I think that’s an over-simplification, and perhaps I’m also guilty of perpetuating that idea. I try and draw visual and ideological comparisons between warfare, technology and culture. Though at this point I think it’s quite likely that I am desensitised as well. But that hasn’t stopped me researching and reading about these issues.
Would you use a drone?
That’s complicated. You’ll have to watch the show to find out.
What other theatre productions or projects have influenced or impressed you recently?
Chris Thorpe’s Confirmation is a huge influence on the show. I also met him once and he’s a very nice guy. I saw Josh Coates’ Particles at Plymouth recently. He’s an equally nice guy, and has a way of encouraging audience members to join in with his madness that’s very compelling to watch. You feel quite safe in that show, even though you’re a huge part of it.
How did you get into acting?
I took a drama A-level in college which was really great fun, and in the first month they took us to the National to see a production of Mother Courage and her Children. I loved it so much. But I was still quite into writing at that time, and I actually wanted to be a journalist at one point. After college, I applied to undergraduate degrees in creative writing and performing arts, and I was accepted into both. In the end, I just flipped a coin.
How often do you get asked 'is that your real name?’
Every time I order a coffee, speak with insurance people on the phone, or just meet a new person at a venue.
Tell us something about yourself that we don’t know?
My favourite band is Coheed & Cambria. Or maybe Silversun Pickups. Or Prime Circle.
What didn’t we ask that we’ll wish we did?
Why I’m called Owl.
What’s next for you?
I’m working with some fantastically talented actors on my next show, called The Interview Project. I’m actually not in this one, so I get to sit back and be a director for once!
It’s a one-on-one immersive show, which I’ve never even attempted before, so I’m really looking forward to touring it and seeing how people react.
Iron M.A.M. is at The Firestation on 10th December. For full details and to book tickets CLICK THIS LINK.