By Shannon Higgins
Arts & Life Editor
Takes Two Men to Make a Brother welcomes the audience to the show and into the brotherhood with five rowdy frat boys, a keg and the promise of an evening thick with experiential theatre.
Out of almost 50 companies who applied to be a part of HATCH, a Harbourfront Centre program that helps new productions get off the ground, Takes Two Men to Make a Brother was one of the four shows chosen for development. The show premiered on March 6 and after some editing, Jordan Tannahill, a third-year Ryerson film student and the mastermind behind the show, hopes it will get picked up by festivals like Vancouver’s PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.
The production mixes elements of documentary, improv, and performance art using the actors’ real experiences and personalities as a spring board for the drama. It also draws heavily from audience participation. The performance features a sleep walker wearing a diaper, a sing-along about a brother who never gets laid and a beer baptism in a makeshift kiddie pool. But it’s more than just party-boy antics, Takes Two Men to Make a Brother is an existential look at what it means to be a man today.
“The essential idea around the piece is about what constitutes masculinity in a contemporary context and how we find that,” said Tannahill.
He also said it explores how men can be complex individuals in their own space, but once together in a group, a mob mentality forms – as seen in fraternities or house parties.
The rituals and rites of passage that used to mark the beginning and significance of manhood, such as Aboriginal vision quests, are missing from our society and have been replaced by negative fraternity practices like hazing, Tannahill said.
The show show begins under the premise that the audience is at a party. Everyone is invited to come on stage, crack open a non-alcoholic brewski and lounge on mouldy frat couches. The actors speak directly to the audience and one lucky spectator is even invited to compete in a keg stand competition.
“We tried to place the audience in a grey area. ‘Are you part of the mob mentality? By clapping and laughing are you actually becoming part of the mob? … Where do you stand and how much bigotry and misogyny will you endores?'” Tannahill said.
Tannahill and Becky Powell, a third-year theatre tech student, produced the show under their theatre company Suburban Beast. Tannahill worked with the performers while Powell worked as the technical director and stage manager. The production is closely tied to Ryerson, with three quarters of the people involved from the Faculty of Communication and Design.
Tannahill got the idea for the show in the summer of 2008 and rehearsals began last December. The cast had twice weekly meetings and Tannahill gave the actors homework to complete such as, “Recreate your perfect way to die,” or “Make an audio recording about your biggest regret.” Tannahill even scheduled male bonding time for the actors to develop into a real fraternity.
One time, Tannahill dragged the group out to Trinity Bellwoods Park in freezing weather to play capture the flag in the snowy woods. When a person was tagged they had to run to a megaphone and yell out their deepest, darkest secrets. For the show to work, the cast actually needed to become friends. Not everyone immediately became pals, admitted Jeremie Saunders, a second-year theatre student and the aforementioned sleepwalker.
“To tell you the truth, in the beginning, Cameron [a fellow cast member] was way too much for me. I dreaded going to the rehearsal because he was going to be there – like I hated him. But as time went by, you just learn to love it and it actually starts to become really fun. He’s so intense and obnoxious, but you learn to take it and roll with it. I’d totally work with him again,” Saunders said.
It wasn’t all fun and games. The castmates discussed serious issues affected young men like shame, fear, pressure, intimacy and intense homophobia.
“When I started to think about what it means to be a man, it brought out a lot of things about me and my father…I think that self discovery can be really interesting in theatre,” Saunders said.
The production also had some trying technical problems. On the opening night an electric razor got stuck in one of the actor’s hair. And 30 minutes before the premiere, Tannahill and Powell were informed by Harbourfront that audience members could no longer be given alcohol from the keg as planned. Frantically, they rushed to the nearest grocery store and stocked up on enough non-alcoholic beer to get at least three people drunk. Another problem they faced was when 40 people rushed the stage on Saturday night. Maximum capacity is 15 and Harbourfront security threatened to pull the plug.
“The assistant director, Ben Carson [a second-year theatre tech student], had to begin escorting people offstage, otherwise the show would have been shut down,” Tannahill said.
Powell said the technical part of the show was a fun challenge. With beer pools, baby powder showers and multimedia to watch over, Powell had her hands full stage managing.
“We’d given the assurance to security that we’d have everybody off the stage in two minutes and they were like ‘why aren’t people off the stage!’ I was sitting up in the booth and had three people from Harbourfront over my shoulder and we’re trying to run the sound cues, the lighting cues, the video cues and get these people off the stage without disturbing the moment,” she said.
“It was a big mad rush. But that’s what happens in theatre…expect the unexpected.”