We all have a #MeToo story. For women, the stories are a little more intimate. Far too often these are stories of all the times we’ve felt afraid, affronted and violated.
For the men in our lives, our friends, our families, our partners, our colleagues who are not the perpetrators of these vicious offences, they know of too many women who’ve had these experiences.
You can imagine their discomfort when hashtags like #MenAreTrash begin to make the rounds. They stand up and proclaim loudly #NotAllMen, which then leads us all into a pit of nothingness, where the root of the rot has not been adequately addressed.
In response to this, #JustMen is an attempt to heed the critical need for action and change this frightening reality, as it tackles the problem head-on.
This new theatre production, which runs at the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio from 13 to 30 June, was made possible through funding from the City of Cape Town and is a clarion call to address the issue.
Directed by Heinrich Reisenhofer (Joe Barber, Suip!), the cast is made up of Loukmaan Adams (Aunty Merle, The Musical, Kat and the Kings), Thando Doni (Ityala Lamwele, Ubuze Bam), Sherman Pharo (Suidooster, Vinkel en Koljander) and Johan Baird (Sewende Laan, Generations). Together, they have devised the play through a rigorous workshop process spanning four weeks of research and rehearsals.
#JustMen is an honest and empowering multilingual story and a healing experience for men, about men, performed by South African men who tell their own stories and take a stand against the epidemic of gender violence in the country.
Chatting to Reisenhofer about the show, he said the experience of pulling the show together had been great because it fitted in with the work he’d been doing over the past year.
“I did the ManKind project last year and I’ve been doing a lot of men’s work, coaching in that field, so this kind of brought together the coaching and my directing work in the same space.
“I came with the idea initially that I wanted to do a show just for men, about men. And I thought that maybe it was a little premature to do a show just for men about gender-based violence.
“But the focus of it is to speak specifically to men.”
Reisenhofer said some of the work that he’d done in the ManKind sessions, which basically provided an all-male platform to deal with and address issues in a safe space with men only, prepared him for this journey as the director of this production.
For casting, it was important that they get men who’d be willing to share the intimate issues and struggles that they faced with manhood.
It was also important that the cast members represent different demographics.
“There are four men in the production, all of them come from different backgrounds.
“One of them comes from an environment where they grew up with gangs, another one from the townships, another one from an Afrikaans community and the last one comes from a Muslim community.
“We look at it from their point of reference, how they are invested or could be invested in taking a stand. We took root in their experiences and as much as they were willing to explore is where the story went.
“It’s got an aspect of a documentary in that it’s different people’s stories. What was poignant and powerful about the #MeToo movement was that it allowed women to bring their personal stories on to a public platform. And the intention of this is to get the personal stories of the performers on to a public platform.
“The willingness to risk being seen, to open up and talk about things that we wouldn’t ordinarily talk about, that men should start talking about.”
The production features predominantly the stories of the performers and others they were gifted by other people.
The catch, however, becomes that the aspect of acting these tales out or pretending to be the storyteller is taken away.
“We haven’t taken any story or told any story that has not been gifted to us.
“There are one or two stories that are not those of the actors.”
The idea for Reisenhofer is simple: “The production is about being willing to be painted with the same brush.
“We move away from shying away from resisting being painted with the same brush and removing ourselves.
“We can no longer say that has nothing to do with us. We should share the responsibility and realise that we’re all involved.”
The idea is that seeing this production will move and spur people into action, by forming part of the solution that thinks: What do we do next? And hopefully, get men more involved in solving the issue.
The hope is that after its Cape Town run, #JustMen will travel to theatres across the country and do exactly that.
#JustMen runs at the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio from 13 to 30 June at 7.30pm nightly and tickets cost R120. Booking is through Webtickets or selected Pick n Pay stores. For discounted group or block bookings contact Leon van Zyl on 021 680 3972 or email him at [email protected].