Labels, Knitting and Man Bits

Man Bits chronicles the journey of two men seeking male empowerment through, er – wool.

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Even in a Fringe programme full of odd juxtapositions and quirky premises, the concept of a men’s knitting support group stands out.

Man Bits chronicles the journey of two men seeking male empowerment through, er – wool.

The characters are bravely (if the publicity photos are anything to go by!) played by Mark Scott and Omar Al Sobky with ‘stitch support’ from Breigh Fouhy.  In case you think this sounds too tame, the play also contains a mini play-within-a-play, unambiguously titled ‘Penis’. And audience are encouraged to knit throughout the performance, contributing pieces  which will be added to the set. 

Renee Liang speaks to writer Rohan Mouldey about what makes men knit.

Is the modern metro sexual male a myth or a reality?

I guess it’s both. If the term metro sexual seeks to define a man who’s more in touch with his feelings, then these men are indeed a reality. But the label, like any label, does no favour to the ‘labelled’. I have associations of a city-dwelling, pretty-boy, who wears make-up and by dint, doesn’t mind having a good cry about it. Of course, this is unfair, and if he exists at all, more power to him, but it’s a label I’ve never related to. I heard somewhere that the moment we attribute a word to something, we lose the something that it was and it forever becomes the thing we’ve made it. As if it can only now be made sense of through the word, through the definition, through the box we put it in. The kind of man I want to celebrate is the ‘honest’ man, not so easily defined. The ordinary, sincere, bloke…

How did you come up with the idea?

Man Bits, as it plays out now, is a big fat snowball. But the little stone that left the top of the mountain was one little five-letter word. ‘penis’. One day about a year ago I rolled through the front door, hot with cycle sweat and wrote down……..
…..penis………….an odd little word……falls from the mouth like a dirty joke…….what is it about penis that makes such a mess of a person’s mouth?.....

I was thinking about the bad rap the penis gets. And by association, men. I was thinking about the expectations a man has of himself in this world, and the expectations a woman has of the man in her world. I was thinking how confusing was the message that sought a man both hard and soft at the same time. I was thinking about modern day gender-role reversals. I was thinking about ‘milfs’ and ‘cougars’ and ‘stay-at-home-dads’ and status, and men expressing confusions. I was thinking about the feminist movement, that sought, in many respects, to separate the woman from the man, without cognisance of the fact that separation made an expectation of change on both sides. The women knew what they wanted. The men were left wondering how to iron a shirt.

In what ways does the play ‘strip bare' the realities of being a man?

Metaphorically, the naked man is the honest man. The realities of being a man in twenty-first century New Zealand are ‘stripped bare’ only in so much as they are talked about. This, surprisingly, can be revelatory. There is semi-nudity inside the play-within-the-play, but the nakedness comes in a man just being honest about his beliefs, experiences and the feelings he has in response to these.

What makes knitting such a good dramatic device?

Knitting is so awesome in so many ways. My mum taught me the basic stitch when I was a kid. It has always been the domain of the ‘lady’, the ‘nana’, the ‘mum’, the ‘home-maker’. I love the idea of a kiwi bloke sitting down to have a knit. Knitting is therapeutic. It’s visually appealing, even mesmerizing. It’s transformative. We have wonderful, deep associations of the ‘women’ in our life who made us jerseys. In all these respects I could think of no finer outer-action to use as vehicle for celebration of male-empowerment.

Why is community participation an important part of the play?

With the recent quakes we are witness to the importance of true community. I’d be hard pressed to think of a time when community participation could not have something awesome to offer. But I just love the idea of people knitting while people perform. I love the idea of people leaving our performance talking about men knitting and talking, but also talking a new skill with them. Finger-knitting is such a beautiful old art/craft. And of course a play can only be a play, when there’s a community to play to.

  • Man Bits
    Te Karanga Gallery
    9 Mar 2011 - 18 Mar 2011
    Entry by Koha/Donation
    Auckland Fringe Festival

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Knitters in the audience on Facebook.

Written by

Renee Liang

7 Mar 2011

Renee is a writer who is exploring many ways of telling stories, including plays, short stories, poetry (which she also performs), and cross-genre collaborations with composers, musicians, sculptors and filmmakers.

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