Contact Theatre is looking at the idea of toxic masculinity in Contact Youth Company’s new production ‘Oh Man’. Set in a secret location and using interviews with boys and men across generation, it is a piece that tries to free up our expectations of men through a strive for gender equality.
I spoke to performance artist Hetain Patel who is working on the project. “It’s a series of episodes about men and masculinity,” he explains. “We’re looking at different shapes of masculinity, in men and women, and how it impacts us all. Most of all, the show is the young people of Contact’s Young Company being honest and fearless in their exploration and performances, which I’ve found really inspiring.”
Thinking about gender and privilege for a long time, Patel felt like it was constantly popping up in his work and he wanted to explore it head on. “It was a very different way of working for me as collaboratively devising an hour long piece in 3 weeks is not something I’ve done before, I wanted to see what that challenge would bring,” he said. “I knew I wanted to piece to be episodic, so we went straight into collating as many different angles into the subject matter as possible, from how it manifests is popular culture and the news, right through to the things that we are too shy or ashamed to talk about in our day to day lives.”
The process was a safe space where we shared very personal things, and without judgement. Its been quite cathartic. At the same time, we’ve been busy with exploring different modes to share this material with the audience.”
Patel explained that toxic masculinity is the reason for worst things in our world. “War, violence, poverty, just to name a few are caused by it and I wanted to explore that,” he said. “However we thought it was important not just to highlighting toxic masculinity but also show where some of that comes from, and those places where we as men need help. Along with this we wanted to show positive aspects of masculinity, it was important to us that the show’s purpose is not man bashing.”
The company’s research consisted of interviewing lots of men. This included youth groups, boxing clubs, barbers, school children, and lots of men’s clubs such as boxing clubs. “They asked them questions about what it is to be man, their experiences, challenges and thoughts about masculinity,” Patel explained. “You will hear some of these interviews as part of the show. We also explored through discussions and workshops about our own masculinities.”
Set in a secret location in Manchester, the company wanted it to be a loaded space, somewhere that masculinity and men already exist in that the audience might already have preconceptions about. The secrecy allows you to experience this almost in a day-to-day way without any preconceived ideas about that space before you arrive.
When asking Hetain Patel what he wanted the audience to think and feel when leaving the performance, he said: I think they will leave full. There is a lot in the show, both in terms of things to think about, but also to feel emotionally.
“I’m certain there will be things people strongly agree or disagree with in the show, it had already sparked a lot of conversations amongst the people that have seen it so far. Along with this, I think it will be hard not to feel emotionally affected by the strength of the young people’s performances.”
Contact Young Company and Hetain Patel’s Oh Man is on at a secret location on Thursday 30th of August and Saturday 1stof September, tickets and information can be found here.