#JUSTMEN. Directed and devised by Heinrich Reisenhofer with Peter Christians, Thando Doni and Loukmaan Adams. Photographs by Oscar O’Ryan. Baxter.
OLEANDER CAIRNS reviews
#JustMen is a production by four men, for men. The multilingual work, partly a response to the #MeToo movement, showed at the Baxter last year and is back by popular demand with some new faces and stories. It provides a platform for men to stand up publicly and address gender-based violence and rape culture, and encourage other men to take similar action.
#JustMen stars Loukmaan Adams, Thando Doni, Peter Christians, and Heinrich Reisenhofer (who is also the director). These four stood on stage and discussed their histories, both of being abused and of being the abuser. They communicated their thoughts and feelings in an unusually vulnerable and open way: told stories, sang, rapped, and cried. Doni’s narrative style was notably absorbing because it alternated between restraint and passion. His increasingly frantic repetitions of “What’s wrong with you men? Why won’t you stand up?” were chilling.
In addition, Christians’ offering was particularly effective. The redemption arc he drew was compelling: from serving time in Pollsmoor for murder to facilitating workshops for the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). He proclaimed his commitment to breaking the cycle of violence and substance abuse and somehow made it sound cool. It was also refreshing to hear his stories punctuated with the kinds of affective phrasing rarely used by men (“Something felt wrong”, “I felt so scared” or “I felt lonely”). Finally, all four men’s senses of humour brought some much-needed levity to what was a really difficult set of conversations.
Men talking to men
There were discussions about the problems with street harassment and rape jokes, the necessity of consent, and the urgency of men intervening in violence towards women and children. To me, these things feel so obvious. We have been talking about them (and suffering them) for so long. But if the problem is that men who are violent (and men who are complicit in violence) can only hear these basic things from other men, the production’s approach makes perfect sense.
While Reisenhofer purposefully called the work a ‘production’ rather than a ‘show’, there were some effective theatrical elements, like men passing a football (read: the buck). There was also a vaguely ceremonial and therapeutic air to the whole work, aided by the presence of candles, an acoustic guitar, an mbira, and a handheld drum. The discussions were littered with a series of punchy self-help style statements, which don’t work for me, like “what we keep resisting keeps persisting” and “whatever you don’t transform, you transfer”. (How many times can you say “share” in one sentence before it becomes ridiculous?) Moreover, while I understand the need for men to focus on themselves to make progress, there were a few moments when this went too far. For example, the bizarre idea that “men are at war with themselves, and women and children are just caught in the crossfire”: it sure as hell feels like we are the main targets. But if this style of applauding and nodding is what it takes to get men to do ‘the 3 ups’ (show up, own up, and open up), I’ll clap until my hands bleed.
Change starts with you
The central psychological message of the work is that positive change starts with you. The facilitator, who was part of the ‘debrief’ after the production, made an explicit link between the need for internal change and the foolishness of sending in the army to try and combat gangsterism. The idea that internal change is the first step is powerful and useful because it gives people a direct way to help: change yourself, change the world.
However, a single intervention of standing up at the theatre is not enough. For one thing, theatre audiences are self-selecting, so the people who most need to hear these conversations may never attend. The creators of #JustMen know this.
Part of the production’s aim is to illuminate the kind of process work some men are doing, and to encourage other men to do it too. Reisenhofer invited the men in the audience to participate in men’s circles over the next few Saturdays (linked to the ManKind Project), as a longer-term commitment. He also spoke about how difficult it was to find men who were willing to do this kind of real talk on stage without playing a character. Adams, Doni, Christians, and Reisenhofer contributed admirably, and are living proof that men can do better if they are willing to do the work. Productions like these can form one tine of the many-pronged approach necessary to make the world less terrible for all of us.
Where and when: Baxter from 17 July to 3 August