Defining a man

Originally posted on www.fearlessinc.com.au

Question: What is a Man?

The definition of a man is an evolving concept. It is influenced by changing understandings of our physiology and psychology. There is also fashionable trends that can influence what it means to be a man. For a young man, this can be very confusing. Add into this mix, strong parental figures.

Toughen up boy. Be a man.

For me, my definition of a man was strongly influenced by my father, and observing the boys at school. I was born in a small community and began schooling in a small class environment. Part way through this, we moved to the city and I was “thrown” into large classroom environments. I wasn’t ready for it. The “culture” shock was rather overwhelming. The hierarchy, rivalries, power-games, bullying, and macho-ism was utterly unfamiliar. I withdrew becoming the outcast, or no-mates character that always form in such groupings.

I began observing, and not liking very much, my own gender. They were posers, acting “tough” which actually meant being mean, and often violent. There was a clear structure where the boys did not pick on the “tougher” boys, but in order to be a part of the pack, they had to show they were “tough”, so they picked on those that they saw as weaker. People like me, and girls in general.

My father’s solution to this was to encourage me to fight back. To be “tough” like them. After all, my dad was “tough”. Yet, I had watched these displays of toughness, and I knew that people got hurt. Even the ones being tough. I couldn’t understand why anyone had to be hurt in order to be to be a man.

My mother got me into self-defence and I think the intention was to teach me some fighting moves. I don’t think they realised that the classes they had set up for me were less about attack, and more about defence. I often wonder if, had my father known what Ju-Jitsu actually was, if he might have insisted I do Karate instead. So I learnt things like evasion, deflection, pain control, and most importantly, not getting angry or aggressive. The best form of self-defence is to avoid conflict if you can. If you can’t, find a way to end it quickly without getting aggressive. Disarm, restrain, and avoid. For me, it was a match to my evolving philosophies.

I endured the teasing, the bullying, and unreasonable hatred for 12 to 13 years, and I came out stronger for it. I still recall meeting ex-students from my schooling years, ones who had been so very cruel, and many seemed to be more emotionally uncertain of their lives then I was.

Getting it right, the first time.

My father was an impatient man. Trying to help him with anything was usually a path to humiliation and distress. If I couldn’t grasp a concept, or didn’t seem to be quick enough on an activity, he would often become frustrated, take over, all the while claiming I was “bloody useless.”

Men, it seemed, must enjoy pulling apart cars, being mechanical, doing laborious tasks, putting themselves in high-risk situations… basically tangible things. He would take me on site with him when he was working his own installation business, send me into the grid-work of exposed roofing supports of large work-sheds, drilling holes through concrete walls, working in extreme conditions like within the roof of someone’s home in the height of an Australian summer. He wanted me to take over his business.

I began to believe that I was never going to be good enough. I could never seem to get any sense of satisfaction from this. I felt like I was a failure, and that something must be wrong with me. I just wasn’t interested in doing the things we wanted me to do.

On the other hand, my mother was artistic. A potter, and painter. Her work inspired me, and I often tried to find my own ways of creating similar art. I tried my hand at drawing, and while I was only so good at it, I loved doing it. I loved taking pictures, and while opportunities were rare for me as a child, when they were there, I relished it.

However these pursuits would never make me a man. I’d never be able to make a career out of them. They were great as a hobby, but I needed to find a real job.

Ending the pain

Age 12, end of Primary School. The move to High School loomed liked a shadowy demon. The thought of high school, with the same punishment, the same kids, frightened me almost to death. I tried to take my life. I was deadly serious about it. I have my father’s rifle. I knew what a hollow-tip round could do. I couldn’t reach the trigger. My arms were too short. I became scared that my parents would be home soon. I quickly hide any evidence. Resolved to try again later, but fear of my father ever finding out stayed my hand from further attempts, and I endured.

I had even failed in that.

Creativity is not manly

I discovered theatre in my final year of high-school, or should I say, rediscovered. After a disenchanting experience at Primary School, theatre was never a thing I considered until it was re-introduced to me in my final year of high-school. I loved it. I wanted to do more. I wanted to study it.

I was told that I would never make a career out of it. I needed to find a real job. A man’s job. Look son, computing is the way of the future. You should do something in computing. This theatre stuff was a great hobby, but you need a real job.

Still very much under the sway of my parents, too scared to go against my father, I did just that. This would be beginning of a change in my perspective. I met new people who could see me for what I couldn’t see in myself, or was told not to see. I was shown that I had other choices. I slowly began to break the walls that I believed should define me. I began to define myself.

Redefining a life

I did as electives, theatre, philosophy, and creative writing. I was employed as a student tutor, and found that I loved teaching. Slowly, the social creature that had laid dormant for so many years, the being I had been in that small town so far away, was slowly revealed, under the layers of encrusting, hardening, and toughening up. Under the layers of false man-hood.

I continue to chip away the bits today, such is the legacy of my youth. My father has long since lamented the choices he made for me all those years ago, and likes to remind me that he was wrong, and that he he had encouraged me in my theatre, I could be something different than I am. Late comfort, but comfort all the same.

Everyday I learn more about myself for me, not to any standard or expectation of what I should be. I have my own definition of what it means to be Jeff. I am a man in physiology, but a person in psychology.

So if you were to ask me now what defines a man, I will tell you that lies define a man, because you’re asking the wrong question.

You should be asking what defines you.

Design for Living

So I can add a few details of the play now. It is Noel Coward’s controversial production titled Design for Living. I play the part of Otto, an artist living the bohemian lifestyle, very much in love with live, and with everyone. When the actions of close friends leave him feeling betrayed, so begins the tangled stories of love lost, found, then lost, hunted, and rediscovered.

Banned in it’s day, it still challenges the modern day perception of stereotypical relationships. Love is free and should be shared, but coming to terms with that is the challenge for the three close friends Otto, Gilda, and Leo.

Season starts in April. Old Mill theatre.

Design-for-Living-A4-advert_v02.jpg

I’m in the play

Yeah. That’s right. I’ve been offered the role I was hoping for. So now I need to start reading the script.

Stay tuned for more updates and season dates. It’ll be a blast. 

Audition Follow up – Finding Range

Well, I am back from the audition, and I feel really good about it. I did the monologue from the play I did last year, with some minor adjustments for contextual reference, and I was able to draw out that deep emotional state I achieved in the show itself. I am convinced that the director and assistant were moved. They showed me what appeared to be genuine appreciation, which is nice.

So I am confident about the audition, but it is not all about me. If I was to be given a role, they have to match me to other possible performers for a good combination, and in this play, there are three key characters whom share a very close relationship. In most cases, it is but two, or an ensemble. The interaction of the three characters are pivotal to the success of the play itself, and it is a hard choice for the director.

So while I may have done a blistering audition, if I can’t be matched with other cast members, I may very well not get a role.

I will find out for certain with the week, as promised by the director.

Treading the risqué boards

auditionI am preping to get back on stage this weekend. Monday night I shall audition for Noël Coward’s Design For Living which is an interesting production. Rather risqué for it’s day, and some might say, even so today, it follows the peculiar life of a three way love affair. The interactions of the three main characters, while utterly deplorable in its day, are still conceptually challenging for modern audiences.

So I find it utterly refreshing that a local theatre company is prepared to put on such a production. This being the same company on that put on another controversial production I was in last year, Closer.

Both of these shows have come at an interesting time in my life where I have been reviewing who I am, and where I want to be. Closer tested my emotional acting to extremes. This play, if I manage to land a role, will test my ideas on relationships and how I perceive them.

I am hopeful, but from past experiences, I have no expectations. I shall update my progress successful or not.

Time for a little Humour

I’m not a big fan of these Facebook based “Copy&Paste” Status things, but a lot of people clearly are. I decided to do something a little different with one, and here is the result. I hope it makes you laugh. 1. Are you named after someone? I’m sure I was. There must have been babies […]

via Now for something different… — Reflection of an Atheist

Reflections 0f 2016

img_20160214_071750.jpgIf one was to look back through the events of 2016, you could be mistaken for thinking that not a lot of good came from the year. World political stupidity, war and conflict, natural disasters, airline disasters, mass killings in the states, religiously motivated murders and atrocities, retrograding equality efforts, and celebrity deaths. It’s been a rather, shall we say, interesting year, but not entirely without its lighter moments, but it definitely has a dark feel to it.

For me, it has been a challenging year. I have taken on some challenging roles including the last play I did, and directing for a festival at the beginning of the year. Juggling fatherly duties, gently preparing for a divorce, maintaining a full-time job which has lost much of its appeal, weekly trivia night hosting, editing various video productions (Short film, wedding video, show reels), and keeping my toes in creative work (films, live-role-play training, etc). Looking at that, it seems a busy and productive year.

I’ve also been learning, and mostly about myself. Learning the difference between those opinions encouraged by society, and those that I personally have. My inner voice has become louder through the years, and now I hear it more than others. I have questioned concepts that I have blindly accepted for years, and researched where I felt knowledge was lacking. This is the year I have made a few personal decisions.

notreligionOne of the biggest realisations is where I stand on religion, which is to say I don’t stand with religion. Anywhere. (If you want to read more about that, I have another dedicated blog page going.) I have also changed my opinions on relationships, marriage, vulgarism, and myself in general. I write more about this on that blog I mentioned above.

If one was a believer in numerology, than 2016 equates to 9, which is a number of endings. The end of a cycle, laying the foundation for a new one, and curiously it does quite feel like that, in both good and bad ways. Personally I feel like I am about to step into my true self and venture into roads previously only dreamed of. Socially, I see that the landscape is about to become more challenging. Why, you may ask…

freedomspeechIt seems to me, at least, that we are entering the age of closed-mindedness. The age where people have decided to claim the right to be ignorant, to be obstinate, to be self-righteous. Where people demand to have their voice heard in the name of freedom of speech, yet deny others that same right to counter their claims. Where what one believes is more important than what the evidence suggests. Where science is a fountain of lies and mythology the keeper of truth.

Just as I am coming to understand myself, and to question the world around me, eager to learn more than I did before, the world (at large) seems as eager to do just the opposite, to ignore the dangers that may be ahead and to relive the days of aggression, paranoia, pre-judgement, intellectual ignorance, and witch hunts. Where opinions are made before facts are considered. Where emotion weighs heavier than reason.

I’m out of sync with the world, and in a good way I think. It might put me in conflict with it… I’ll take that risk.

Taking on a new me?

Back in high school, I had begun to envision myself as a stand-up-comedian. I was watching the likes of Billy Connelly, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, and so many more, and just thought it looked like a lot of fun. Thing is, I was still very much in an awkward phase and the very thought of being evaluated on my humour scared the hair off my skin.

15-naveedEven after I started doing theatre, and gained some confidence in playing characters, the love/fear fantasy of stand-up continued to thwart itself, like the proverbial snake eating its own tail. I still have a few teeth marks around here somewhere. It is different to theatre where you play a character, vs being yourself trying to be funny. Who would get my humour? Am I really that funny? You know, the type of fear that secretes glue from your feet pinning you in place, then reduces the skin around your eyes and mouth leaving you looking like a startled owl saying “who?”

trivia-night-photoQuite by accident, I found a smooth pathway to finding my glue-less footing and feeling a little more like “I can do this.” For nearly two years now, I have been hosting Trivia nights for local pubs, and ended up doing a regular gig at a conveniently local tavern. I started off cautiously, but aware that I was basically a source of entertainment for the players. It was a little rough at first as I inadvertently put a few noses out of joint. Noses that were used to the smell of the previous trout, and weren’t too sure what to make of this new fish. I wasn’t too sure what to make of them either…

It took a little while to work into a groove so to speak, and develop a style that I was comfortable with. Curiously, it was a style that previously I wouldn’t have even considered; sassy, confident, and a little offensive. Having been well known for being well spoken, I found that the more cutting and slang I was, the more people seemed to enjoy it. So I obliged bit by bit over time.

On thing that did throw me off for a while was the hecklers. I really did not have a lot of experience with that. In theatre, you rarely if ever have a heckler, yet I always admired actors who could work with the Audience.

jon-english1John English immediately comes to mind. I went to see a Pirates of Penzance show with him in it, and unfortunately I was late. Having front and centre seats made for an interesting entrance. John stopped the production and from to front of stage, and watched me as I made my way from the back of the auditorium, across the front row, to my seat. Once I was seated, he asked me if they could continue, to which I replied with a quick. “Yes please. Thanks for waiting.” That got a laugh. John did one of his famous ‘double-takes’, gave me a hard look, evoking even more amusement, and I just smiled back up at him. After a second, I waved my hand saying “Carry on.”

He then made sure to cast a few one liners at me for the rest of the night, to which I enthusiastically riposted, much to the glee of those around me. I then had a great chat with the man after the show, and he told me about the numerous other experiences he has had with late comers. I remember him saying with was refreshing to have someone push back instead of getting all embarrassed.

It’s a memory that remains so very strong. I have had a few opportunities to emulate his example, but Trivia nights have been a real experience and experiment. So I started watching comedians again, but not laugh at their jokes, but to see how they handled hecklers. Jimmy Carr became a core role model, who actually makes heckles part of the show.

I admit, that I have pinched and re-written a couple of his to suit my needs, to great effect. It has changed my approach to Trivia nights, to performances, and even to engaging with people on a day-to-day basis. The spread of effect this has had is rather marvellous, and people have even been pointing that I should consider stand-up…

I think 2017 may be the year I brave the solo limelight and unleash the spirited young comedian inside this aging ham.

ADR of a Lunatic

adrToday, during my lunch break, I squeezed in a little ADR for a short film I am in. It was the final steps in processing, and the screening is in two weeks time. ADR can be a little bit of a pain. Sometimes it can be fun. Today, it was fun.

ADR: The recording of audio, usually vocals, after filming for either replacement or overlaying.

The worst thing about ADR is trying to match the timing of your vocals to the way you said during filming. This is tricky and I am still a little green with it. This is why I enjoy the more Voice Over aspects of ADR, which was pretty much what today was.

Sadly, I can’t comment too much on what the film was about, other than it was a short clip done for a local Film School, and I got to play yet another slightly unhinged character. Do I hear the word stereotyping rising from the depths? Probably.

Having done a fair bit if editing myself on various projects, it was interesting to see the live editing that was going on while recording my voice, and to get immediate feedback on how the recording sounded. The Digital revolution has certainly changed the video edit work-flow for the better.

It was also very nice to see a few of the people I had worked with back on set.

Well, I look forward to seeing the final edit, and meeting all the crew and cast again at the screening in two weeks time.

Silly Selfie – Lessons in acting

 Acting is so much easier when you are prepared to leave your pride in the change room. So is life.