By OddSox Theatre Company
It’s What We Do is a piece by Odd Sox Theatre Company that responds to toxic masculinity. Its intention is primarily to transgress the hold and power of hypermasculinity by offering its audience active and visceral access to the notion of toxic masculinity as a constriction and limit on the male identity (and society at large).
The piece does not aim to make a direct claim toward a solution for toxic masculinity, as it avoids assuming a position within the binaries and constructs that support its practice. Rather, it is a product that, through the process of observation and reflection of these structures and of the society that has contributed to them, acts as a demonstration of our findings, and an offering of knowledge, in the hopes that collectively, can do better.
For this portfolio, we have carefully selected the sources that best demonstrate our intentions and process as a group. Each source relies on the circumstances of the piece’s aims, and the company’s overall intention. For that reason, we have selected the following few:
- An Interview Trailer, a video that offers insight to our creative strategy and context of our piece,
- A Theatrical Score, a written document that provides detailed description and scripting of dramatic action and use of theatrical devices, such as sound and lighting,
- A record of Stage Design, which conveys the application of our logic and research into the set and use of space,
- A record of Costume Design, which illustrates the design process and development of meaning and symbolism through costume;
- A Video Montage made of rehearsal footage, to provide examples of our rehearsal process and creative outcomes from exploring our methods and themes in line with our logic.
Although the company’s main aim is to offer a sociocultural commentary, the piece’s aims are more specific to the nature of the topic and our process. Toxic masculinity proved at first a difficult topic to access. Providing a large breadth of opportunity and rich content to explore, it was not easy to succinctly define, and therefore in our attempts to do so we were led to varying avenues of exploration, that were either too complex or too reductionist to critically respond to.
We began the process by responding to our own feelings toward toxic masculinity, and from there discovered that our primary aim for the piece was to communicate the fault of toxic masculinity as an experience that limits the development of male identities; despite the regular and systemic glorification of its practice at large in popular culture. This dynamic between the cause and effect of toxic masculinity provided us with a focus for our approach and the boundaries of which we could work in, allowing us to identify and define toxic masculinity as a limitation and constriction of the male identity. Our process, being reflective and reflexive in nature, was central to the way our ideas and creative content were shaped. Therefore, we have created an Interview Trailer, that is twofold in its purpose, to demonstrate this. The video is curated dramatically and utilises theatrical components so that it serves more than one function, by presenting the atmosphere of the piece as it would be for an audience, as well as providing detailed information on the make-up of the play. The interview aspect offers our perspectives on our practice and the logic of the piece, in order to capture that nature and internal process. The trailer aspect offers images and sounds from rehearsals to visually represent and contextualise those ideas and topics discussed.
Adopting the use of Antonin Artaud’s first manifesto of Theatre of Cruelty, our approach focuses on assaulting the audience’s senses. This intention places ‘experience’ at the heart of our performance, making the use of space and movement integral to our practice. It is through the use of movement and space that we communicate the internal and external structures that make up toxic masculinity. By creating visceral, sensory imagery, we aim to engage the audience in a state of catharsis, moving between the effects of toxic masculinity on the mind and body, exploring its inner workings as a belief system and internalised state of suffering, and its application and use as behaviour in the body. This dynamic underpins the piece, and is brought to life by characters, a narrative strand, sound and lighting, which in their individual ways too, add layers of meaning.
We have included a theatrical score of the whole piece to demonstrate the embodiment of this dynamic through these theatrical devices, and the purpose and structuring of these devices in creating symbolic meaning and sensory imagery. The score is detailed with information and diagrams on movement, lighting and sound cues (along with cue sheets at the end), dialogue and stage direction of dramatic action; annotation. The score also serves the purpose of demonstrating the application of our research. We adopted one item of research as our main stimulus to support our view that toxic masculinity is ultimately a form of internalised suffering, that limits the social, emotional and relational development and the expression of men. In the podcast ‘The Savvy Psychologist’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Mental Health’ (Hendriksen), Dr. Ellen Hendriksen hypothesises that toxic masculinity is a box: a rigid and narrow space that men contort themselves into. The score is representative of how our use of movement, space and theatrical devices communicate this notion, either through its semiotic interpretation through movement and character, or its literal application through space and lighting. The theatrical score is followed by a record of the set design, which demonstrates a strategic approach that utilises Dr. Hendriksen’s definition of toxic masculinity. Space and set design dominated a large amount of our process, as it had to support the imagery and meaning created through movement and character. We experimented with how the space could be manipulated so that we could communicate and visually represent our ideas on toxic masculinity, whilst having our audience come into practical contact with said ideas. The record includes images of stage models and captions that illustrate how we used the Boilerhouse Theatre’s space and shape, the use of steel decks, audience placement, and lighting to build a box-like shape. It follows the score rather than proceeds it, so that the images can be viewed in context of our piece, helping to build up images of the performance. The record aims to convey the importance of space and set design in our piece. It offers an understanding to the ways in which the movement and dramatic action operate within the space and are heightened by its structure. The space holds symbolic value, and through its use, it informs the content and intentions of the characters in the play. The space heightens the symbolic meaning of the movement and dramatic action, while the latter contributes a dark and menacing atmosphere to the space, creating a nightmare-like environment.
Like the set design, costume design plays a key supportive role in contributing to the aims of the piece. Our use of costume contributes symbolic value and offers a disturbing aesthetic to the performance. Our record of costume design includes; the design concept and process, the materials used, and the symbolism and intention for each costumed character. Inclusive of images and design sketches it presents the application of our ideas and logic to the piece at large. With costume operating as signposts for our audience, we have detailed the design intentions, which ultimately would present as a distinction between the internalised, nightmarish world of toxic masculinity, and its transmission and application into the ordinary world in the piece.
To finalise our portfolio, we have included a video montage of our rehearsal process. This video reflects our creative process in two ways: it offers examples of the work we have created and explored, by presenting footage of different rehearsals; and represents our critical and evaluative approach. Our process required reflection and constant observation of our creative content. Videos were used as a source of record for evaluation and criticism throughout our creative process. Filming content, from choreographed movement sequences to devised scenes to improvisation, allowed us to review the work we created and adjust it to our aims. This kept us accountable for our work but encouraged a critical and evaluative approach that was very important to our process and central to our aims. It supported us in distinguishing the value of both aesthetic choices and creative content, and methods of creating, helping us merge several theatrical techniques to heighten meaning and emphasise visual and sensory experience, to communicate as clearly as possible our observation and reaction to toxic masculinity.
The portfolio wholeheartedly represents our work, but it is the structure and consideration surrounding it that categorises our collaborative work and utilises the strengths of the individuals in the group. It conveys our creative work in its content and reflects the company’s attitudes and personality through its design. Together, all the sources operate to contextualise It’s What We Do and present the unique nature of our work – as an intimate marriage of process and product.
A short film documenting and justifying our rehearsal process. The video features interviews with the company, rehearsal footage, costume sketches and set design models.
The aesthetic of this performance is very specific to the style, and the costumes resemble this. Inspiration for these costumes has been taken from the personal experiences of the OddSox Theatre Company members. Additional inspiration has been taken from media outlets, such as product advertisements as well as social media.
|Ensemble of Dream Demons|
The Meatman represents the pressure Toxic Masculinity places on body image. This character shows the struggle of trying to achieve the ‘ideal’ male body, according to the stereotypical hyper-masculine male.
The costume for Meatman consists of a large amount of elastic string, stage makeup and tight athletic shorts. The elastic is plaited and wound in order to give it the appearance of rope. It binds Angus’ body to accentuate his muscles so that they bulge unnaturally. The stage makeup is used to create the effect of raw, open wounds over Angus’ body. The reason for this is to give Meatman the appearance of having skin that resembles rawhide. This is to highlight the unattainability of the stereotypical hyper masculine body for all men. The influence behind the costume is clear in the gym scene where Man A and B argue about trying to achieve a more muscular body.
The Birdman character represents the effects of Toxic Masculinity on mental health. The Birdman is an embodiment of the negative and damaging thoughts brought on by the interactions the character has had with Toxic Masculinity. This character is inspired by a large, crow-like bird that is trapped in a cage that is too small for it. As a result, the bird resembles a decaying bird, from where its wings have been torn and worn from trying to escape.
The costume is made from two main components. A paper mache beak made to fit Lily’s face specifically, and a cape-like garment to which the ‘feathers’ are sewn to become the wings. The beak is black with blue tones and has a crooked upper beak in order to add to the nightmarish and decrepit look of the costume. The beak has nostril holes to allow more breathing ability and is attached to Lily’s face by a black elastic band, like a mask. The beak resembles the same style of mask used in Ancient Greek theatre in order to amplify Lily’s voice rather than hinder it.
The base of the wings is a large square of stretchy, black textured fabric. This base has been made into a cape with sleeves so that when Lily’s arms are raised, the wings look impressively large and when they are by her side, the wings drag along the floor. The ‘feathers’ are made from large strips and lengths of black and dark navy blue muslin. These strips have been distressed heavily so that they look rough and messy. The ends of the strips are ripped and frayed to create a feathered look. These lengths have been sewn in layers on the cape to give the effect of an incredibly heavy garment, without actually being too heavy. The reasons these fabrics were chosen is because they allow Lily to move in a way to make the wings seem heavy, therefore resembling the weight of negative mental health, without injuring her.
The Suitedman is a representation of misogyny, sexism and patriarchal power. Suitedman is the easily
recognisable exaggerated character type that is similar to the ‘sleazy salesman’ type. Due to this costume
being the least other-worldly out of the three Pillar Characters and Ensemble, it was important to ensure
that this costume did not look too human. To resolve this, Emily’s characterisation of the character is
what changes a seemingly human costume into that of one of the Pillar Characters.
The costume for the Suitedman is an oversized blue suite and white shirt with a loosely tied tie. The suit jacket hangs off the character’s shoulders and the trousers are baggy and unflattering. A brown belt is used to hold them in place.
Left: Figure 3.5
Ensemble of Dream Demons
The Dream Demons are the link between the two human characters and the Pillar Characters.
Ensemble of Dream Demons Costume
Each member of the Ensemble wears a set of ribs beneath their outer costume which consists of differing vest tops and t-shirts, all of a similar muted earthy tone. They each wear black tight, dance shorts, enabling a full range of movement. Despite the fact that these characters wear fairly pedestrian garments, the ribs create an other-worldy, nightmarish element to the costume. The ribs are made by winding masking tape around lengths of elastic. This allows movement without injury and means that the ribs are visible to the audience subtly. The subtle addition of the ribs adds to the false sense of security that these Demons are human in sense, such as the Party Scene.
Man A and Man B
Man A and Man B are the only human characters in the piece, and their costumes reflect this.
Man A and Man B Costume
Pedestrian, everyday clothing is worn by the Men. They do not dress for a specific time, as the piece is timeless.
Rehearsal Video Montage
The video montage is a compilation of rehearsal footage and includes both sections of nearly completed choreography, as well as snippets of our devising process. On occasion, we have included the accompanying sound
or lighting to further present the desired effect of each scene.
The videos have been arranged to correlate the chronology of the score, such that the creative devising process can be referred to with reference to the annotations and descriptions of each scene.
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