During gender activism campaigns like the 16 Days of Activism, one group of voices is traditionally silent: those of men. But writer, poet and actor Antonio Lyons has decided to change that.
He wrote the one-man play, We Are Here, during last year’s campaign and developed it into its current form with the help of award-winning actress Lindiwe Matshikiza at a set of workshops in KwaZulu-Natal. “It’s about adding a male voice to a discourse that’s predominantly female,” says Lyons.
Director Warona Seane emphasises the importance of bringing in men’s voices: “A lot of women have said that in their discussions about abuse and looking at the abuse of kids, they never thought it was detrimental to the cause not to engage men.” But, she says, men have to lead the process themselves.
Through a series of 16 sketches, Lyons explores a range of male perspectives on gender-based violence and abuse: a father giving advice to his son, concern for a female friend in an abusive situation, the politics of dating and, in one particularly moving scene, a father’s deep anger and guilt over the rape of his daughter.
One exchange of dialogue sums up the play, which was performed at the Joburg Theatre for five days last week and highlights the disconnection men feel when it comes to discussing gender issues. “Why does my attempt to liberate myself offend you?” asks a female voice.
“Because in your [liberated] future, I am still a man: absent, erased, gone, not relevant,” replies Lyons. The chairs were arranged in a circle, giving a feeling of closeness and intimacy with Lyons and the play. Multimedia elements were introduced via a projector and screen on stage, which brought an added dimension to the stories.
The poetic dialogue rose and fell in the small space, often eliciting murmurs of agreement from the audience. After the show a discussion was held, allowing people to talk about what they had seen. “I think it’s in the title, We Are Here,” says Lyons.
“The idea is to start a dialogue with men, with women, to say there are men who are available, who are responsible, who are supportive, who can help make a difference in this issue of gender violence and abuse, and that we’re not always perpetrators, we can be part of the solution too.”
The play was performed at the MenEngage Africa Symposium in October and has been awarded a Fulbright grant. Next year the plan is to tour the country, holding workshops in communities, schools and colleges.