BOY TALK: Director Thando Doni with the cast of Passage.

Theresa Smith

USING a workshop process, Thando Doni gathered five men at the Baxter to start a conversation. Auditions threw up a diverse bunch deliberately chosen to represent various cultures – white English, coloured Afrikaans, Sotho, Pedi and Xhosa.

Of course, the process changed his original vision of where he thought the play would go: “You need to acknowledge that you are working with people from different backgrounds and understanding how we were brought up is very different and what it means for all of us to be a man is very different.

“How do we then, with our differences, come together and put up a play that speaks about men in general,” Doni asked.

While the workshop process opened his eyes to how differently each culture expressed manhood, it was the commonalities that really stood out.

One thing all agreed on was that no one is born with the innate knowledge of masculine identity, everyone takes on that responsibility: “You have to work at being a man.”

The play is not about initiation rites either, but rather as the name suggests, the passage from boyhood to manhood.

“We often are told you are a man because of what you do, not because of what you are or how you look or where you have been or what you have seen.

“But at the same time one has to take into consideration that what you have seen and how you have been raised will affect how you are as a grown man,” said Doni.

An impending township tour is not just a fine-tuning rehearsal period: “It’s just taking theatre to the people, not everyone can afford to come to the Baxter.

“Also, it’s important for me, it is where I come from and there are groups in there who can learn something, in terms of looking at the subject matter.”

Why would anyone want to watch the play when all the men are doing is sitting around, talking to each other about being men?

Doni thinks an audience would profit out of seeing a very different perspective.

“Interestingly and surprisingly, some of the things we speak about are new to us as men. If it is hard for us as men to access these things about other men, surely there’s distance between men and women understanding those things.

“We walk the same paths and do the same things, but still there is so much you don’t understand about us.”

He sees the lack of positive role models in contemporary society as a distinct problem.

“Everyone is looking out for their own, we no longer have people who are mentors, who give advice.

“Our priorities have changed because what we are into now is making sure I get that job, that big house, that beautiful woman at my side. None of those things is wrong, but there are other important things to look at too. When you pass someone on the street who is hungry, what do you do?

“I was reading in the paper the other day, this young man raped this infant and then afterwards burnt her. It makes you question: what mindset are we coming from? What is wrong with us?’

Living in Khayelitsha, he is appalled and confused by the amount of violence surrounding him and how it affects especially teenage boys: “At 14, 15 years old they are already stabbing each other and doing very strange and wild things to each other.

“I said the other day, we lack dreaming. People don’t dream any more. They don’t know, these boys, that there are places in this world where the sun sets after midnight and they’ve never seen snow, they’ve never seen the beautiful things in life.

“They grow up in Cape Town and they die at the age of 16 having never seen anything of the world, having never envisioned themselves living a good life.

“Where does that come from? Where the only thing they can grow up to become is gangsters?”

l Passage: February 25 at the Rent Office, Delft, at 5.30pm; February 26 at the Zolani Centre, Nyanga East, at 5.30pm; February 27 at the Makhukanye Art Room, Khayelitsha, at 5.30pm; February 28 at Siphumelelo, Fish Hoek, at 5.30pm; March 1 at Inkqubela Community Centre, Robertson, at 3pm; Baxter Flipside from March 4 to 22.