The Commons festival begins tonight at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio. Purchase tickets here and read more about The Commons Crit here.
When I entered the rehearsal space at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio, Eb. Brown and Daniel B. Coleman were busy crafting their performance piece, which premieres on Saturday. This will be for a much larger audience than the one at the intimate iteration I attended last week at Durham’s The Mothership. The small room nurtured a feeling of closeness among participants. The final performance of Nu Mas(k)ulinities seeks not to recreate this experience but to amplify its communal nature.
Nu Mas(k)ulinities is an interactive ritual in which audience members will feel as if they are sitting onstage with the performers. The goal is to forge togetherness by encouraging the audience to stand, sit, dance, and sway their bodies in a shared space. At this rehearsal, I felt encouraged to share wholly in the experience with Eb. and Daniel. This cultivation of and attentiveness to shared space aligns with the interactive ritual’s goal of collective witnessing and reflection.
At CURRENT, I sat down next to Eb. and audio recorded questions to be used during the final production, which made me think about my interaction with folks and spaces around me. I read aloud in my deep, almost baritone voice: “What do you notice about the way you carry your power?” I didn’t have an answer then, but I had more of my own questions.
Do I use the power I possess to share the space around me?
Simply posing such questions about my masculinity forces me to identify small ways in which I could be perpetuating patriarchy. Asking them is therefore a ritual, a process by which I search for inner clarification. This questioning is, as Eb. noted after the rehearsal, “a praxis for undoing patriarchy”—and this praxis demands interactivity. Communal participation is necessary if we are to resist patriarchy, if we are to uplift, sanction, and support healthy masculinity.
Interaction within a shared space is not unique in the arts, but the process in which Eb., Daniel, and Joie Lou Shakur will invite the audience to co-own the performance is uniquely tailored to their intention. Thus, Nu Mas(k)ulinities became a two-part ritual for me. On one hand, I was expected to receive and process certain intangible grievances wrought by toxic masculinity against the Black body, such as institutional racism, sexism, and transphobia. On the other hand, I learned that asking questions is healthy and will help me find joy about my masculinity. Nu Mas(k)ulinities will hopefully leave audience members asking, “How can Black masculine folks and others more regularly perform this ritual practice as a way of uplifting healthy masculinity?”
As I watched Daniel move his body, twisting and turning as if his soul was echoing freely throughout the room, I could sense movement within my own body. I was captivated by how his actions, coupled with music playing over Eb.’s personal speaker, made me feel free to move also. I asked Daniel, “What does movement do for the body and mind?” For Daniel, performance is about a “movement of the body that doesn’t require the narrative” that others have written. It means getting out of the mind, allowing the body to interact within the space through the process of sharing, receiving, and seeking. We all have access to this together, but also individually.
During my time with Eb. and Daniel, I learned that we might all leave with different interpretations of our communal experience. In fact, Eb. warmly teaches this as part of his personal process. Stressing the “you” in the questions, choosing which movements you want to perform, opening yourself up to your own insecurities—all of this comprises individual journeys that folks can recreate on their own, beyond the shared space.
After the rehearsal, I left with clarity about my body, my power, and, my “nu masculinity,” and I hope that participants on Saturday will leave with their own discoveries. The revelation of diverse Black masculinities, for me, has been powerful and worth sharing. Nu Mas(k)ulinities asks us to begin the work of healing toxic masculinity. It also encourages us to become stewards of healthy masculinity in our own walks of life. When our communities see and acknowledge these eclectic Black masculinities, it is for the better. The only masculinity that should be abolished is the toxic one that harms us all.