Reflecting on Man Up

After eight weeks of rehearsal and a week of sold out performances, the dust is slowly starting to settle on Man Up.

Restoke, the organisation behind Man Up, retweeted praise for the show on their Twitter account. One audience member documented their reaction in this blog post. And, before the filmed version of the performance becomes available, there is even a cheeky Instagram video capturing some of the Northern Soul scene that opened the show.

 The Up Men. Photo by the wonderful  Jenny Harper Photography

The Up Men. Photo by the wonderful Jenny Harper Photography

I've already documented some of my reaction to being involved, such as after the creating weekend in April and about a month before the show when tickets went on sale. Now, after a few days of calm trying to process the response and the come-down from performing for an audience, here are some of my reflections.

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Less than a week after leaving a salaried job and starting a new life as a self-employed freelance writer, I had my first involvement with Man Up. It was November 2017, and my chat with Clare and Paul of Restoke was energised by the freshness of that radical and independent life choice. Free of the stifling work environment I'd come to feel increasingly at odds with, I had feelings and opinions about mental health and masculinity that needed to be heard!

As the project developed, however, what I quickly realised was how much I needed to listen. During workshops and creative sessions, I listened to people recount stories and experiences that put into perspective how fortunate I'd been in so many respects; that put into perspective my ignorance of how trapped people can feel by their upbringings and their social circles. Stories of being threatened, purely for threatening the insecurities of others.

Along with all the listening was the encouragement to participate. I still recall the moment in the first taster session, back in February, when we put gestures that might be considered typically masculine into a sequence of movement - and I realised I had been 'tricked' (in the nicest possible way!) into dancing.

But that was the beauty of it. Everything developed organically. Throughout the process, there was never any pressure to do anything. Crucially, from that moment, no longer was there any reason to be scared of anything either.

When I told my brother I'd started rehearsals for the performance, he said, "It's not something I'd have expected you to do." He wasn't the only one. But I'd been with Man Up the whole way and, if I'd departed from it at the last, there was no excuse I could have given that I'd ever have been happy or comfortable with.

As it was, the experience only ever became richer. On multiple occasions I was humbled by the investment made in my personal development, all in the name of making the show the best it could be. A Northern Soul workshop that taught me to be myself on a dance floor. A singing lesson. And the opportunity to get to know and work with the most generous, creative and talented group of professionals I've ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Since my early teens I've bumbled through all sorts of creative projects that mostly felt fruitless or purposeless. Occasional bursts of relative success generated some positive reaction, but nothing like the overwhelming response to Man Up. Little wonder, then, that I have never felt as proud of anything as I have of what these amazing people produced and invited me to be a part of.

During one rehearsal I was asked if I felt represented by the monologues featured in the show. I didn't expect the question and had been having far too much fun to wonder about it, so I blundered through an answer about how a section on attitudes at work matched what I had talked about all those months before. Over the following weeks, the real answer to the question became increasingly clear.

The quality of being open and expressive, without holding back anything of one's self, is universal. I'm not a black man, a gay man, a transitioning man, or many other types of man, but that didn't stop me from feeling represented by anybody's story thanks to the bonds we'd all forged as 'Up Men'. We shared in each other's ups and downs; we grew individually and collectively.

It has been an incredible experience. The movement to inspire others to join us in it is only just beginning.