What Would People Think of Me?
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This excerpt is from my new podcast Alanism which explores the psychological benefits of creativity in art, music and theatre.
I sat down with actor/writer Liam Cogan of Ragged Trouser Theatre Company to discuss his upcoming play Gary’s Not Well at The Bread & Roses Theatre 5-9th Feb, 2019.
The theatre, for me, was a relatively new experience up until I got to drama school, actually. And also because where I grew up in the Midlands we didn’t have a theatre. We would have had to drive about 40 odd minutes to go to Sheffield, or to get to our closest theatre.
So what was that transition like then going from growing up without much experience of being at the theatre as an audience member to kind of jumping into the deep end and doing a degree in theatre and acting?
Yeah for sure, I mean let’s put it this way, it got me out of my comfort zone for sure. I was a very sheltered person and a very boxed in person when I arrived there. But one of the things I realized about drama school is it does help you step out of your comfort zone—it really frees you.
You’re [Alan] doing a workshop to do with acting and wellbeing for people, and I’m a staunch supporter of that because I think it really does get you out of that comfort zone. I was the kind of guy that when I arrived I had very certain ideas: this is how a man acts, this is how a man should be, and this [drama school] is a little bit strange.
And you get there and they’re like, ‘OK everybody crawl around on the floor and pretend to be an ape’ and ‘I want you to make monkey noises at the top of your lungs’ And I’m thinking, ‘What did she just say?’ ‘Am I hearing that correctly?’
They use the example of children, right, so as a child, what do you do? You play, you know, ’Oh I’m in a spaceship, wooooo’ and the child’s free and he’s playing, and he doesn’t care that he looks ridiculous—he’s simply playing and imagining.
And we lose that as adults don’t we? And we get filed down to specific roles, and we have all these expectations about who we’re supposed to be, and how we’re supposed to act.
And how do we behave, and that’s not normal, and I’m an adult now, you know, this is reality. And they worked really hard to get us to lose that—to crack the armour. So it was like, Liam, ‘I want you to crawl on your stomach and pretend to be a snake’. They basically try to do whatever they can to take away any dignity, any self respect that you might try and hold for yourself, they try and break that in front of people. You have to do it, because maybe one day on the stage you need to prance around like a unicorn, and be a character that might be completely different to yourself.
So was that challenging for you?
Very challenging. Because instantly I’m thinking, imagine if my family in Italy could see this, god, what would they think? What if my friends back in the Midlands could see me prancing around, or pretending to be a dandelion in the wind, what would they think of me? But I think it was one of the best things of my life getting out of that mindset—What would people think of me? And it was so good to get rid of that mindset. And it really is a mindset I think, not just mentioning some of the machismo culture that does exist in the Mediterranean, in South America and in various parts of the world, but it was a machismo culture that again also existed in the North and in the Midlands… we’re real tough men, and especially in the mining community that I grew up in the Midlands it was very kind of real man’s man. We go to the miner’s club on a Friday and a Saturday and we drink alcohol. This is how you behave if you’re a man, and if there’s a problem there’s violence.
Or if you have internal problems you just suck it up. You don’t talk about it.
Yeah, exactly. And that’s what they think that men are. And I think it’s great to see the reverse side. You know we often talk about jiu-jitsu, because I’m a practitioner of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and my jiu-jitsu instructor is coming to see the play [Gary’s Not Well]. His actual profile picture on his WhatsApp is ‘No health without mental health’. Outside of his Brazilian jiu-jitsu and his judo, he really works hard for mental health because again he knows in an environment like martial arts that can sometimes translate into ‘I’m a fighter, I’m a fighter, it’s all in here’. You know, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine,’ you’re not getting inside my head’.
But everyone has struggles right? I think we need to talk about it. I think that’s a big part of what I want to do with this podcast as well is encourage people to reach out if you need help, rather than just carrying these struggles around and kind of sucking it up. Especially for guys, it’s very hard to reach out, very hard.
Listen to our entire conversation here: https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-7ecif-9f6540