MAN UP is a ground-breaking project looking at mental health and masculinity. Co-created with and performed by men in Stoke-on-Trent from their own ideas, experiences and stories.
Dates: The performance will take place:
Tuesday 21st to Friday 24th August.
Venue: A unique location in Stoke-on-Trent north. Details to be released soon.
Below is the MAN UP blog, written by some of the participants involved.
IN THEIR WORDS - MAN UP, THE BLOG
"Those who had come to take part in this project didn’t judge me, or seek to make me inferior. Instead they shared their scars, both mental and physical, of their struggles to be masculine in the eyes of the world."
I saw the Man Up project promoted on social media and knew of the amazing work of Restoke as I had been an audience member at several of their performances in the past. I was interested immediately in the subject matter, it almost called out to me as someone who has been told by others from a young age that I was not masculine.
I had an idea that I wanted to tell the story of my granddad making me a dolls’ house as a Christmas present and how as an adult I viewed that very much as demonstration of his acceptance of my obvious differences from boys the same age.
What I wasn’t anticipating was the fear I would have being in a male dominated environment. As a man who identifies as gay, I have experienced being treated with hostility by straight men and all my insecurities came to the surface.
At the creative workshop I was suddenly very much aware of my inadequacies in the ability to project an external appearance of what stereotypically is seen as masculine and what would make me fit in rather than be an outsider.
I suddenly realised that my maleness was very much not high on the list of characteristics that I felt identified me. On a piece of paper, I was supposed to be writing about how my masculine pride had affected me. Instead I wrote “What am I doing here?”
I was filled with conflict too as I have spent decades carefully constructing an exterior self who isn’t bothered by the remarks of those seeking to highlight my less than masculine qualities and who instead strives to seek strength from my differences and to take pride in them.
It was a steep learning curve for me. I had been guilty of stereotyping a group of men based on my past experience. I was being just as close-minded as the man on the street who shouted ‘queer’ at me.
Those who had come to take part in this project didn’t judge me, or seek to make me inferior. Instead they shared their scars, both mental and physical, of their struggles to be masculine in the eyes of the world.
By the end of the creative weekend I felt that we had grown closer, both emotionally through our shared writing and physically through the movement workshops.
In a relatively short amount of time, I had seen the vulnerabilities of men who had been strangers less than a day before and they had seen mine. We had created a safe, sharing space and had been transformed through a collective experience.
I am proud of what we felt able to share and I am excited about the possibilities of what we can create together.
"Contributing the benefit of my experiences to the project is one thing, but learning from other people’s stories, being inspired by what they’re willing to share, and going back out into the world with a greater appreciation of what other ‘like-hearted’ people might be thinking and feeling is invaluable."
The other day I read a blog post by Austin Kleon, a writer and artist, in which he quoted a couple of lines from one his favourite books. He wrote: "...if you really want to explore ideas in an environment conducive to good thinking, you should consider hanging out with people who are not so much like-minded as like-hearted,” people who are “temperamentally disposed to openness and have habits of listening”.’ It was the kind of thing that, normally, I’d have read, appreciated the sentiment, and then gradually forgotten about as my over-active brain continued juggling everything else it needed to think about. Thanks to participating in Man Up, however, it took on much greater significance - because I realised that’s exactly what the participants are: a like-hearted group of people, with a willingness to listen. Thirty-odd people took part in the recent creative weekend, coming from an incredible variety of backgrounds and experiences. It’s extremely unlikely that we all agree with each other about everything, but we’re all invested in this unique experience and prepared to open up to one another.
I’m Paul, I’m 33, and I’m a freelance technical author and copywriter based in Leek. My upbring was pretty unremarkable. Essentially, I was one of the Inbetweeners; part of a nerdy crowd that kept themselves to themselves, was mostly rubbish at sport and became instantly awkward around anybody popularly considered to be ‘cool’. Like many people experience on the journey into adulthood, the creativity I often displayed as a kid was gradually forced out of the picture, replaced by everything society considers ‘normal’.
Daily commute? Tick.
Nine-to-five office job? Tick.
Climbing the career ladder to fund utility bills and trips to Ikea? Tick, tick.
Tick tock, tick tock.
There were times I knew something wasn’t right. One day I wanted to leave the house for fresh air, but didn’t dare open the front door for fear of any kind of interaction with another person. That was a biggie. To this day, I have no idea what prevented that from becoming something worse, but I’m eternally grateful for whatever it was. Five or six years ago I started reading articles by a couple of American guys who call themselves ‘The Minimalists’. The things they had to say helped make sense of a lot of the anxiety I felt around possessions, consumerism, advertising and what I valued as important to my life. From there, I carried on reading about mental health, self-improvement. I started running, and I found a passion that I could write about.
Last year I chose to cast aside the comfort blanket of a regular salary and see if I could make a living as the writer I had always wanted to be. I wanted to be able to manage my own time and have the freedom to say yes to new ideas, meet creative people and find new opportunities.
When I saw the details of Man Up, I immediately wanted to be part of it - and it’s no exaggeration to say the process has been joyous.
In a welcoming and inclusive environment, I’ve been coaxed out of my comfort zone doing group musical and movement exercises. As well, I’ve been encouraged to take forms of expression I’m more comfortable with - writing and illustration - and use them to explore themes and ideas that I never usually feel able enough to capture. It’s a completely new experience, and I’ve begun to learn more about the city of Stoke-on-Trent; its people and its creativity. I don’t know what my contribution to the finished product might be - I’ll be happy to be involved in any capacity.
Watching professional artists, poets, dancers, musicians, designers and photographers create, shape and record the Man Up experience is a pleasure. Ticking new boxes that I didn’t know were waiting to be ticked is inspiring and addictive. Most importantly, I’ve listened. By any number of measures I’ve been very fortunate, and I’ve got a lot to be grateful for in that ‘unremarkable’ upbringing. Contributing the benefit of my experiences to the project is one thing, but learning from other people’s stories, being inspired by what they’re willing to share, and going back out into the world with a greater appreciation of what other ‘like-hearted’ people might be thinking and feeling is invaluable.
"It is from these shared experiences that knowledge is developed, awareness is raised and we gain a growing realisation that despite all being unique and individual, there are common experiences and emotions that ultimately bond us all."
“I’m 47. 47 years old. How did I get to stay alive this long, all these years? Fear. The spectacle of fearsome acts”
BUTCHER BILL - GANGS OF NEW YORK
If you have ever seen 'Gangs of New York', you will no doubt be familiar with the quote. It’s a tense, but tender scene, where Butcher Bill, (played brilliantly by Daniel Day Lewis) talks openly about parts of his life to Amsterdam, (played by Leonardo Di Caprio) after Amsterdam had saved Bill’s life the previous day.
As a professional actor, I appreciate strong performances such as this. In my experience, anything that seeks to explore the frailties of life and the insecurities of humanity, whether on stage, through music, through writing, radio or on screen is worth giving our time to. It is from these shared experiences that knowledge is developed, awareness is raised and we gain a growing realisation that despite all being unique and individual, there are common experiences and emotions that ultimately bond us all.
As we have come to expect with Daniel Day Lewis, the performance was gripping, engaging and technically faultless, however, what drew me in to this particular performance was the use of the word FEAR.
I have had an interesting relationship with FEAR for as long as I care to remember. It is FEAR that has got me through life to where I am today, and it is FEAR that will continue to drive me forward to whatever future lies ahead. I suspect that will always be the case because I truly believe that the moment we stop scaring ourselves, the moment we give in to FEAR is the very moment we stop developing.
So much these days we crave comfort, stability, security, familiarity, routine. The perplexing reality though, is that the world we live in offers none of these. Nothing stays the same for ever, jobs change, relationships change, borders move, mountains move, the universe is in constant motion and yet, we crave sameness. Here’s the even stranger thing though. We still crave these things, even if we know deep down, that they are holding us back and even that in some cases, they are detrimental to our health and wellbeing.
Ask yourself, when was the last time you drove a different route to work? When was the last time you sat in a different chair? When was the last time you broke a habit? Then ask yourself why, and you will see that it comes from FEAR. We are fearful of change, we are fearful of being different, we are fearful of failure, and here’s the strangest phenomenon of all, we are even fearful of success.
But ask yourself this question….
What in life do you remember the most? Is it those moments of sameness and routine, where everything happens the way it always has happened, or do we remember those moments of fear, of excitement, of trepidation and of achievement of having achieved something new. Which do you find the most compelling?
We simply don’t remember mediocrity. Why should we? However, we do remember those moments that challenge us, those experiences that take us to new places, that stretch us, that move us, that shift our perspectives, even if just a little bit.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve embraced my fears. I’ve learnt to respect them, love them and to use them as opposed to let them get the better of me, to restrict me, and to run away from them. Put this another way, when we are running away from something, we keep looking back, but when we run towards something we look ahead. There is a huge difference.
A few weeks ago, when I walked into a room of 30 men, none of whom I had met before, to share stories about our lives and our experiences with a view to creating a live performance focused on Masculinity and Mental Health, I had no idea what to expect. Did I feel an element of FEAR. Of course I did. Did the other guys experience the same. Of course they did. Did we let it get the better of us? Absolutely not.
What happened that day, will live long in my memory, and I am sure in the memories of everyone else who overcame their FEAR, because we all, individually and collectively took a huge leap out of our comfort zones, and into the unknown. That unknown however is now the known. It is no longer scary, and as a result, we have jointly created one of the most supportive, honest groups of people I have ever had the pleasure to work with.
Here’s to a great performance.
"So, where does the adventure take us from here? Well, hopefully, it’ll take us forward and show us that it’s OK to be unsure about who we are at times, that it’s fine to be fluid in our thoughts and feelings about ourselves and our roles in life."
Something said to me “Go for it.”
That was the first thing that I thought when I came across the Man Up post on Facebook. The shadowy subject of how men deal with their masculinity and mental health has always meant something to me as I’m not what might be considered to be a traditional type of man, not really interested in the expected goals and aims that men are supposed to be driven by. I’m far more interested in people and why they do the things they do, what makes them tick and what they care about. Add to this my own experiences surrounding mental health, through personal issues and voluntary work, meant that the prospect of finding out more about an organisation that wanted to look into all three was too good a thing to pass up on.
From first walking in through the door on that Saturday afternoon, I knew I’d made the right decision to follow the voice that told me to “Go for it.” The whole thing felt right. There was, of course, initial trepidation and that uncertainty that goes with a new experience but it soon became evident that I was amongst like-minded souls who wanted to take part in this new and exciting adventure. And that’s the thing about Man Up, it is an adventure.
When I first started to write this, I wrote and re wrote because nothing sounded right. I couldn’t find a way to really express how I’ve felt about the whole experience so far so I got wrapped up in the detail and it stopped me in my tracks, I tried to write in a different way that I usually do and it wouldn’t work. That in itself, I suppose, is related to the Man Up ethos.
It’s OK to be yourself.
Over the last two group sessions, I’ve met so many different people, who also want to find out about the okay parts of themselves a little more, who also have different ideas about being a man, what that means and how to fully express that in their own ways. We’ve talked, drawn, written and taken part in activities that have taken away that self-consciousness that can hold us back from getting involved. We’ve shared things that mean something to us, shown each other belongings that are important to us for a hundred different reasons, we’ve laughed and even sung Ukrainian folk songs.
The harmonies are a killer.
Some of the people there have shared life changing experiences that have taken a lot of courage to talk about in a big room full of people they know very little about. Hearing their stories has inspired and humbled me in equal measure.
So, where does the adventure take us from here? Well, hopefully, it’ll take us forward and show us that it’s OK to be unsure about who we are at times, that it’s fine to be fluid in our thoughts and feelings about ourselves and our roles in life. Personally I’d like to think that this is the start of something bigger for myself and others. Something we can come together on and create, share and develop ourselves further through more interaction, discussion and performance. Somewhere we can support, challenge and encourage men to be far more open and comfortable about themselves, who they are in this big, confusing and ever changing world and how it affects them in their hearts and minds.
MAN UP -
If you would like to take part in Man Up backstage, or through volunteering at the performances, please register your interest here: firstname.lastname@example.org
SPONSORS & IN-KIND SUPPORT -
Could you support MAN UP through in-kind support or sponsorship? Contact us to find out more: email@example.com
Man Up Press
CONDITIONS FOR USING VISUAL MATERIAL
- The owner of the work of artworks / photography must always be stated / credited
- Duplication and commercial use are prohibited
- Visual material may only be used for the duration of the project / performance unless otherwise agreed.
For further enquiries contact Sarah Nadin firstname.lastname@example.org