A gritty, humorous & revealing performance from the frontlines of masculinity & mental health.
MAN UP was a ground-breaking performance about masculinity and mental health. Originally performed in August 2018 - created with and starring men from Stoke-on-Trent.
"Man Up is a beautiful gift of a show. Full of fury & fragility, challenging expectations & building resilience. An urgent reminder of the breadth of experience of masculinity"
MAN UP - Evaluation - read in online.
“The aim of this report is to open a window into Restoke’s methods of co-creation in a way that invites you to share in their learning; describing the processes, successes and challenges of tackling the difficult subject of mental health through participatory performing arts.”
Nicola Winstanley, Artist-Researcher.
GOLDENHILL WORKING MEN'S CLUB
“I don't even know if working class man has the faintest idea what he is any more, what he's supposed to do. What is my purpose? As a working-class male, what is my function? We don't really make anything anymore. We don't need to go down the pits, we don't have steelworks to go to, all the potbanks have gone...” H - Man Up Participant
Usually, before Restoke embark on a new project, the performance venue is known. Inspired by the location, the architecture, the history and the space, the building becomes part of the creative process from the start.
However, Man Up was different. For several months the project had no home. Despite Stoke-on-Trent having numerous potential buildings and spaces, none of them seemed right.
From the moment Clare and Paul stepped into the Concert Room of Goldenhill Working Men's Club (WMC), they knew it had great potential. Built and opened to the public in 1971 the club remains a cornerstone for its local community. Every Sunday the concert room serves lunches and entertains with its 'Sunday Club' – games, music and the chance to win the bingo jackpot prize. The club’s steward Mick, who also lives above the WMC told us “eight years ago, if you weren’t here at 12.30pm on a Sunday, you’d struggle to find a seat”. Although weekends are still the club’s busiest days, the numbers have dropped. Mick believes this is due to changes in the workplace; “more shift work, more regulations, the fear of losing your job if you turned up for working smelling of the beer from the day before”. Along with cheap booze in shops, the smoking ban and changing social attitudes the WMC has suffered several knocks in its 57 year history.
The Working Men's Club movement began in the middle of the 19th Century; a place for men to unwind after work. "In the 70s and 80s the bar room was the tradesman’s office", Mick adds that “people used to do business here, plumbers, builders, plasterers exchanging work”. Today the club has 400 members, each one contributing £5 per year, and is used by men women and children. In essence the club is a co-operative, owned by its members, “every member is my boss” adds Mick, “we have a good mix of members, young and old. A lot of the older members come here for company, they’ve been coming for years”.
There are discussions about rebuilding the club, “to keep up with the times”. It’s felt that more modern facilitates will help to retain and bring in new members. Details are yet to be finalised but some members are against the proposal – “they have a strong connection to this building” adds Mick. What is certain is that the community needs the club, “they would be devastated if it went”.
The 'Up Men' (Man Up participants) have also emotionally and physically connected to the space – dancing Northern Soul on the well-worn parquet flooring, singing on the stage and admiring it’s 1970’s décor. Some had existing memories of the club and family connections. Artistic Director Clare says " It’s been a change for us to work in a building that is still in use and has it’s own life. Getting to know the staff and club members, have children from the club join in the workshops, and the ever present ‘China’ the resident dog have all added to the experience of Man Up and is bringing new audiences to our work. We’re giving members of the club free tickets to see the show, to say thank you for welcoming us into their place and being so generous and open-minded as we’ve developed this ambitious performance.”
IN THEIR WORDS - MAN UP, THE BLOG
"I estimate that we’ve all put in around 100hrs together, all of which have been blessed with jokes, banter, chat, knowledge, revelations, announcements, and an ongoing abundance of tighter and tighter hugs."
Something which isn’t immediately obvious about what’s been happening at Man Up from Restoke is all that’s been going on seemingly behind the scenes since October last year.
Most of us Up Men walked into the early workshops as strangers to the dozens of others who’ve contributed along the journey. We entered through the door alone, often a little scared, and struggling to find commonality with those who appeared so radically different on the surface.
Naturally, as a result of going through the amazing creative processes that Restoke have developed and utilised over the ten years they've been doing this, we have had a lot of time to simply sit down and chat, be it instigated by workshop activities, drinking coffee before we got going, or waiting in the background while others hone their parts of next week’s performance.
I estimate that we’ve all put in around 100hrs together, all of which have been blessed with jokes, banter, chat, knowledge, revelations, announcements, and an ongoing abundance of tighter and tighter hugs.
It brings a tear to my eye just thinking about how close I’ve become to the Up Men and the Restoke team, a tear I’m proud to shed because it represents how much we’ve opened up, connected, and formed to become something new, something progressive, something beautiful and very much a new form of masculinity - one that embraces vulnerability and wears it as a badge of honour along with bright eyes and a smile that allows others to finally open up and tackle problems that seemed initially bigger than all of us.
This coming week, each evening from Tues-Fri, what many of you will see at the Goldenhill Working Man’s Club is the sparkling tip of the Man Up iceberg, one hour of what we need to say and what we’ve come to learn in the form of heartfelt poems, beautiful dance, moving music, in your face comedy, and raw monologues.
Plus, it doesn’t end on Friday’s after-show party, which you’re all welcome to attend and talk to us more about our experiences. It doesn’t ever end. The legacy of a Man Up and what Restoke have done will diffuse throughout Stoke, the Potteries, and continue to reach further and further outward as more and more Up Men continue to chat, to share, to connect with those who really-really need to.
If you want something local, something artistic, something community orientated, and wholesome to feel deeply proud of - this is it. This is as much part of you as it is of us. This is how we Man Up.
"Men can be gentle, kind, quiet, humble, uncertain, vulnerable. Men can be cute. This may seem obvious. It was not obvious to me. "
When my friend handed me a flyer about an arts project concerning masculinity and mental health in Stoke-on-Trent I knew that Man Up was probably going to be right up my street. My long-suffering friends have listened to me rattle rhyme and verse on the aforementioned topics for many years: as a trans man born in Stoke-on-Trent who works in and wrestles with mental health, there aren’t many ways in which this project could have been more relevant to me. Refusing to be sidelined by society, my mission since I came out as trans has been to take up as much space as possible in the social sphere, sharing trans narratives and contributing to a growing critical awareness of gender. It’s a way of channelling the nervous energy, a social fight or flight. Man Up seemed like the perfect place to tell my story.
I presumed that this would be like previous ventures into cis space; a polite tussle for narrative rights that would end in me probably being a little antagonistic and celebrating the small but important ground I’d gained. Resilience is key and walking into a room of blokes from Stoke was something I had to psyche myself up for. I was more anxious that I thought. Self-reliant, borderline arrogant, I came with a thick skin and a list of offerings that trans men could make to cis men: if I could make them rethink maleness that would be a victory indeed - and the mental health statistics show us that this masculinity thing we’ve got going on clearly isn’t working. Maybe the men who wouldn’t let me in their club weren’t so smart after all. Angered by being socially marginalised and embittered by the realisation that I’d beaten myself up on behalf of the world for 24 years, I was almost a little bit glad that I wasn’t the only one who has wanted to die. It’s defences, isn’t it? Bravado. Maybe I’ve got more in common with the proverbial Billy Big Balls than I thought.
Meeting Clare from the Restoke team for the first time, I quickly realised that I had misjudged the situation. The points of my experience that I assumed I’d have to get across through retort I was asked about in advance. Not just as a counter argument, but as a legitimate narrative of maleness. I felt validated and safe from the off with Clare, Paul and the other artists, and slowly, my confidence grew and my walls fell.
So now we’re just 7 days away from opening night and the impact these last 8 months working on Man Up have had upon me are genuinely profound. In seven days I will definitely have achieved my objective - I will have told my story to around 400 people at the coal face of masculine culture in Goldenhill Working Men’s Club. But what I have learned about myself and about men I could never have foreseen.
Men can be gentle, kind, quiet, humble, uncertain, vulnerable. Men can be cute. This may seem obvious. It was not obvious to me. At worst, I thought of men as vacuous, arrogant, aggressive, entitled. The problem, not the solution. At best I thought of them as shallow and distractable, an emotional non-event. And of course they can be these things too. But what I was failing to see was men as fully human. I’ve reflected deeply on this. I’m a hopeful person, a proud liberal, a queer activist. Where did I get caught up in such a limited and negative outlook upon my fellow humans? Well, I’m not sure I’ve ever been emotionally close to a man before. Definitely not a group of men. I have been around men, known men. But do I know who they really are? I’m not sure I do.
I thought that my unique route into masculinity left me unaffected by its most troubling aspects. One of the benefits of being raised female is that I have not been punished or humiliated for showing emotion in the way that little lads so often are. But I didn’t realise that the men around me, in their adherence to social expectations, had kept the best of themselves from being seen. Rob talks in his monologue in Man Up about playing the role of the provider, the breadwinner and how it came at a huge cost for his own mental health. I knew the men in my life worked hard, were stoic and rational, but I didn’t know that they felt deeply, doubted themselves, had emotional needs. I didn’t know that they were like me.
My fellow Up Men have showed me exactly how much we have in common. Their stories and mine have many familiar threads. The circumstances are different, but the feelings are the same: we have all struggled with rejection, shame, repression, loneliness. We have all felt unseen, displaced, like the world didn’t want the real us. I still believe that the perspectives of trans men are important and potentially liberating for cis men. What I certainly didn’t foresee is that cis men have a great deal to offer me. Being emotionally close to a group of men for the first time in my life has strengthened my identity in a way that I could never have done on my own. I’ve felt seen as a man, by men. I’ve felt brotherhood, safety, true and deep acceptance. I’ve seen men transformed from stiff and awkward to people who will spontaneously burst into singing Ukrainian folk songs. Man Up has given us a place to thrive. Every Saturday from 10-4pm at rehearsal, I’ve witnessed people loosen up, express themselves, grow. In the last few weeks there is this visceral feeling of what a special thing we have shared together and the beautiful thing that we have created both on and off the stage.
It’s been wonderful to feel the warmth of a brotherhood. I’ve never had so many hugs. I’ve had conversations about gender, relationships, clothing, intimacy, violence, ethnicity, work, self-care, recovery, disability, medication, art, music, dance, poetry, drugs, prison, love, sex, politics, veganism, loss, family, kids. I can’t wait to share this thing that we’ve made together with Restoke with my family, friends and fellow Stokies. I am left feeling more at home in the world and profoundly hopeful about the future. There is work to be done to broaden our view of gender and build a more emotionally healthy society, but for the first time I truly feel like I’m not in the minority for wanting to do it.
"For me, the darkness that descended occupied 3 out 4 seasons this year. Despite the fears, the tears, the rants and the rejections I find myself grateful for the unexpected brotherhoods that have developed. Support networks of guys who somehow appeared when I’ve needed them to keep the light on for me."
If you listen to the movies, life happens when you don’t make plans. Materially successful people will sell you a book that tells you to make plans for your plans.
If I’d had my way I would have changed career and left this city long ago. It would all have been on my terms and conditions, there wouldn’t be any of this, beyond your control malarkey.
When the mist of Christmas cleared, I was thrust into a spiral that at times became a whirlwind of despair and frustration. There were days when I couldn’t face the mirror let alone the world, days where I didn’t want to hear my own thoughts or superficial well-wishing. Give me what I need or leave me alone was the sentiment. I believed I had to roll with the punches and keep the scars hidden. The blessing in the storm was that for my sanity, I wasn’t allowed to do that.
For me, the darkness that descended occupied 3 out 4 seasons this year. Despite the fears, the tears, the rants and the rejections I find myself grateful for the unexpected brotherhoods that have developed. Support networks of guys who somehow appeared when I’ve needed them to keep the light on for me.
I’m thankful for the school friend who introduced me to a global group of like-minded guys who were open about their struggles and gave each other support.
I’m thankful for the Man Up project which has given me a greater understanding of the journeys to and through masculinity. I’ve been able to drop a mask or two and find acceptance waiting for me. I have learned that masculinity cannot truly be taught from one-dimension.
I’m thankful for my brother CJ who has been the general on the ground who doesn’t use “how are you?” as a greeting.
By the end of August, I will have told my story to a few hundred strangers. At some point, I’ll have new colleagues to create new stories with. It may take time to recognise all the lessons that this season within seasons has taught me.
However, the one I resonate with the most is that life is a team effort. As we understand each other, we grow, we become ourselves, we fly higher and sew into new teams.
For this, I am thankful.
"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.