“Approximately 12,000 men are raped every year*. These are only the reported cases as 96% of all male rape incidents go unreported*”. Writer and performer Alex Gwyther will be at the Edinburgh Fringe 2019 with his show Ripped; on a mission to break outdated gender stereotypes and shine a spotlight on these horrifying statistics.
We took 5 minutes with Alex to learn more about the show, his previous performance work with The Premier League, and how these numbers can be tackled.
1. Ripped is centred around the pressures put on young men to live up to outdated ‘manly’ characteristics. Did you draw inspiration from any of your own experiences/those of people close to you?
I think if you’re a male today you will undoubtedly have come face to face with something like this. It’s inevitable. I remember in school the first pressure was to be good at sport, mainly football. If you were good at football you were respected by the other boys, invited to the most parties and had the most attention from girls. Obviously this changes as we get older and the goalposts shift. For Ripped I did think back to times in my own life, yes.
2. Your story looks into some pretty horrifying statistics relating to male rape. What do you think the UK is missing in terms of support for victims?
It’s getting better and with the awareness and spotlight shining on male mental health over the past decade we are breaking away these ideals and there is more support available. The “It’s OK to talk” and “It’s OK not to be OK” era has done a lot for this. Through charities such as Survivors UK, Survivors Manchester, Stay Brave and Break the Silence there is support out there and a safe space for survivors to come forward. I feel the biggest hurdle is men feeling like they are part of society that won’t ridicule them or single them out. I think there needs to be a big shift in attitude in general on how we approach and consider masculinity as there is no denying there is something fundamentally wrong with how we frame it. That’s what Jack’s story is about – someone who feels they can’t speak out about what’s happened to them for fear of ridicule and instead decides to go on a journey of self-recovery with quite disastrous consequences.
3. What are the pros and cons to a one-man performance, and why did you choose this particular route?
If the story is deeply personal to the character and it’s about them going on some journey, then why not have the character themselves tell the story. If there had been a larger cast of actors, we would’ve lost Jack’s internal thoughts and feelings as he would’ve had to burst into monologues during every scene. Ripped is completely focused on Jack’s development and a lot of the story is comprised of his train of thought, observations and the internal challenges he faces. With a one-man performance we can go on this journey with Jack, he is our navigator through the absurd world of modern masculinity, and I always think it’s interesting for the audience to question the reliability of the storyteller too. Also, when in a one-man play you’re seeing the world through someone else’s eyes means which is such a powerful opportunity and allows people to change their attitudes and become more empathetic towards others. A one-man performance can do this very powerfully, as well as being engaging and entertaining. Also, from an actor’s perspective, it’s a completely thrilling and fulfilling experience to be able to tell one person’s story single-handedly for a full hour, especially if you’ve written it and are totally invested in it. My first play Our Friends, The Enemy was a one man play so I threw myself in the deep end with that and it followed one soldier’s journey during the 1914 Christmas Truce. Doing that as my first professional stage debut gave me the bug to do it again.
There’s no cons of course! Come see the show!
4. With such a serious subject matter, how do you go about creating a play that doesn’t leave the audience feeling helpless or downhearted?
There’s a lot of comedy in Ripped and Jack’s very much like a naive little boy stepping into this scary unknown world of modern masculinity, so there’s certainly some more endearing and lighthearted moments. There has to be. But when dealing with a subject matter such as this, I don’t think the audience should necessarily have a tied up nice and neat little ending. The reality is down-heartening in itself. This is a real issue for thousands of men, hundreds of thousands if we’re to count the individuals who have suffered traumatic events other than sexual violence, such as the death of a loved one or a cancer diagnosis, and who refuse to seek any support or help. If the audience are left feeling satisfied and upbeat, I’m not sure I’ve done my job as a writer and won’t have done the topic a service. I want Ripped to serve as a catalyst for constructive conversations, raise awareness and change attitudes whilst dealing with the issues truthfully.
5. You were previously commissioned by The Premier League to raise awareness of mental health in footballers. Do you have any memorable positive stories that came as a response to that project?
The performance was followed by an hour and a half workshop with the players and their response was brilliant as they had conversations with one another that they’d never had before, such as how each of them prepares for a match, how they feel after training, what baggage they sometimes bring with them into training. It was amazing to see the players interact with such openness and find out new things about one another. They were also very truthful, with some of them saying they’d had an argument with their parents which made them angry in training and affected their training. The feedback we got from the clubs a month or so later had shown that the boys had taken on board the approaches to mental health we had given them in the workshops and there were stronger, more supportive bonds between the players.
And Just for fun …
6. What’s the dumbest thing you’ve heard someone say that men shouldn’t do?
Sit with their legs crossed or wear a coat on a night out.
7. What is the first thing you notice about a person?
8. What is something you like to do that other people might consider weird?
I don’t like to do it, but I have to put get dressed in a particular order or the world will end (OCD)
9. Would your rather have the chance to re-live a week from the past or visit a week in the future?
Visit a week in the future. I often re-live weeks from my past anyway!
10. Do you think that aliens exist?
… We are aliens.
Ripped is running at the Underbelly, Cowgate, Edinburgh, from 1 – 25 (excl. 12) August 2019, 13:00 – tickets are available via the Underbelly website.
Read more about Alex Gwyther on his website: www.alexgwyther.com