BIG! Member Dean Hutchinson has developed a business that exists to assist performers and artists to succeed financially as well as artistically in their career, Jozara. The co‑founder, Sam Dunstan is from a performance background and shares below a project that he has been working on recently.
Over the last few years, masculinity has become a ‘hot topic’ in theatre and the arts. Lots of shows, music, paintings, installations and exhibitions have been created to explore the positive and toxic elements of masculinity, and whilst I enjoy these pieces when I see them I always end up thinking: “if you showed this to some of the guys I grew up with, they would tell you to do one!”.
One thing I have always loved about Doncaster and the North is the people, and truly inspiring people shape our lives every day in ways we cannot imagine. I grew up around three amazing men that helped me to become the man I am today. One was a piano player who found joy in every moment he spent with people; the second was a youth theatre director and teacher who was tough, but always fair; and the last was an educated, eloquent man who loved a good story and believed in a story’s ability to change the world.
As I grew up, each of these men inspired me to find joy, hold myself to a high standard and believe in the power of stories. That’s why I started A Manhood Project with The Growth House in 2018, to examine the stories, lives and experiences of Northern men in the 21st Century.
So I started to interview people: men and women from across Doncaster and the North about what it is like to be a man from an area like Doncaster, right now. I wanted to listen to their stories and experiences to better understand my own masculinity and identity.
Through the process I have met some incredible men that have helped inspire a new show. These are men that defy that traditional stereotype of masculinity and are inspiring other people across Doncaster and the North of England. This show will be performed initially at CAST in Doncaster and we hope to take performances to other theatres, pubs, Working Men’s Clubs, Boxing Clubs and more non-traditional spaces.
In the art pitches of the Corn Exchange in the centre of Doncaster, you’ll find a wonderful painter. This painter is a former schoolteacher who, after an awful battle with anxiety and depression, had to leave his job. He felt like he couldn’t talk to anyone about his problems and struggled to understand the negative patterns of behaviour that trapped him. Through painting, he managed to rebuild his sense of self and now defines himself as an artist. His work is amazing, focusing on the darkness of loneliness and the joy of brotherhood. Thanks to his art pitch, men of all ages, colours and creeds walk by, see his work and come to chat to him. His openness to talk about his journey has meant random strangers have opened up to him about a huge array of personal issues. He listens, discusses, and lets them carry on with their day.
Meanwhile, in Hexthorpe at Doncaster Plantworks boxing club, you will find a man named Paul. Paul is a former miner, who now runs the club following the late Ken Blood who died 5 years ago. He aims to teach discipline, confidence and self-respect to the young people he works with and does this by creating a safe, male-only space that encourages an openness between everyone in it. The young men he works with have such respect and admiration for him and he takes that trust very seriously. The beauty of his position means that he is not seen as a parent or a teacher, but instead a mentor. Because of this they are open with Paul about things they couldn’t tell a teacher or parent, and Paul can advise, support them and do what he needs to do in regard to safeguarding. Paul’s admiration for those he works with is evident from the moment you meet him and ask, “Why do you do it, Paul?” and quick as lightning he says “Because I love them. I love every single one of them”.
In the centre of Doncaster is a men’s group that meets every week. The youngest is 22, the eldest is 56, who all work in various professions and industries. They are asked a simple question:
Who was a male role model or influential person in your life?
There were two types of answers:
- A celebrity… who the group would immediately take down.
“Jeremy Clarkson…he works hard, knows his cars and knows who he is”
“Yeah, but he’s a racist! Are you racist?”
“Michael Jackson. What a guy! Loved his music and knew every single part of it. He put so much care into every track he produced which is dead good,”
“You were inspired by a pedo?”
“Oi! Courts found him innocent”
- A relative…and it was never their Dad.
“My Uncle. He was always so happy to see me and would take me on brilliant days out.”
“Oh Grandad! Without a doubt! Worked hard all the time and would sneak me beers when my mum weren’t looking. I hated the taste but loved him for that.”
Over 20 men of various ages, classes and backgrounds in one room, went on to tell me about the conflict they feel right now between who they were raised to be, who they want to be and who they are told they must be.
One said to me “We have a lack of vision. We have lots of nostalgic fantasies of the past, but nothing that looks clearly into the future”.
The men and women in Doncaster who have shared their tales over the last year and a half have deep, interesting stories. Stories of joy and sadness, pain and regret, passion and love. We want to bring these stories to the country to challenge the stereotypical notions of masculinity, let others in places of insecurity know they are not alone and inspire other people to share their stories. And we want to make it a good night out while we are at it.
If you have a story, want to chat about this article, about the project or get involved in even a small way, then drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org We can chat in any way that makes you comfortable.