Before our performance came to be, before The Boys Performative Group was formed, a bunch of men started meeting every week for a couple of hours. They would sit on the floor, in a circle and talk about manhood and its hardships. They shared their experiences of being socialized as boys. They talked about toxic masculinity. They wondered what it means to be a man in a semi-peripheral country. And soon... they would talk just about everything: their parents, sex, spirituality, relationships, work, and how much each of them earned. And it wasn't just talking – the men cried together, embraced each other, sat in silence, played basketball, improvised, sang, danced, lay on the floor, and ate, together.
And that is how the performance We wanted to talk about manhood, and we became friends was created.
I was one of those boys who had difficulties with their male identity. For a long time I’d rather speak of myself as “a person” rather than “a guy”. The identity of a guy didn’t sit well with me. This was changed by group therapy and by our guys' support group. Our empathetic men’s circle was full of emotional stories about repressed, cursed, stigmatized masculinity. These stories were also told through improvisations – with speaking, with movement, solo, and in groups. It was a months-long process of seeing one’s reflection in other guys and their lives. Of receiving and giving back.
The performance was built from our stories, our feelings, our beating hearts, and the tears we shed. We employed improvisation, free flow of ideas, and, finally, conversations where we shared how each of us felt about these artistic challenges. Three of us expressed a desire to be a director, but everyone was involved in the creative process. I remember these moments during rehearsals when the room was simply teeming with our collective creative energy. Everyone threw in ideas, comments, inspirations, solutions, and then all of a sudden we’d have created another scene. Nothing compares to my excitement and joy from this process. Here we were, a group of very different men who teamed up to create – often through heated debates – emotionally impactful scenes, joined in some sort of a frenetic dance. There was a fire burning inside of us that warmed the audience during the shows.
We didn’t expect the audience to react the way they did. Moments when we touched and embraced each other caused anxiety, even among seemingly “progressive” people. Somehow, radical leftists couldn’t bear this man-to-man tenderness, this tender masculinity, intimacy going beyond patriarchal norms. Each show ended with an hour-long conversation with the audience who finally had an opportunity – despite there being two interactive segments in the show – to share their feelings, opinions, and confessions about their male friends, fathers, and brothers.
We hang on what people say, and what they write in the chat – the performance takes place on Zoom, so everyone can share their admiration or disappointment about what's going on in real time. The last audience member says something to the camera and we say goodbye. But it isn’t over.
Our performance comes to life and brings hope.
It isn’t over, because there are two messages in our inbox: one person calls our performance vulgar, the other is outraged that nobody warned them about homosexual themes. We’re in this together. We support a queer person who is in our group and whose monologue about an unsupportive father was part of the show. We feel strong.
Joy. We feel joy. Satisfaction. Relief.
It’s time to rest. To dance. To lie down. Breathe. Robert. Tomek. Kamil. Paweł. Mateusz. Marcel. Grzesiek. Wojtek. Julian. Przemek. Mak.
Your names are those of feelings.
Text author: Tomasz Gromadka