Artistic Director Emma-Jane Morbey and Dance Artist/Scriptwriter Isaac Ouro-Gnao talk about the makings of Father Figurine and its journey to date.
What inspired Father Figurine? Why make a piece of theatre focusing on male mental health?
Emma-Jane: I’m very passionate about mental health awareness, especially around young people from my previous experience of working with disengaged and hard to reach young people; especially boys who put up a front, who are told they have to man up. For boys, if they have this type of father figure that reinforces that, the ability to talk about how they’re feeling is just not something that feels like it’s aloud in the household. And seeing their inability to communicate and talk about their emotions, it was just so apparent and so important to find a way to explore the pressures society puts on them to have this kind of male dominant role.
When we created our triple bill Reflections, we had three incredible pieces of work that were centred around mental health. And from the feedback, the one that stuck in people’s memories and created a real sense of emotional response and connection was Father Figurine. Whether you were male or female there were elements in that piece that people really related to.
Isaac: I was writing a poem titled Father Figurine at the time. Something cathartic, that reflected my anxiety and depression, that could reflect my own relationship with my dad and its shortcomings. I remember Emma-Jane pretty soon after the first Reflections show talking about creating a triple bill of works. She wanted to explore the male ego and mental health in a father-son relationship and I just knew straight away Father Figurine would be it. From then it just grew. Inspired by hundreds of real-life stories; both from Emma-Jane and I’s professional and personal relationships to research from mental health charities like Mind (with a huge help from Oxfordshire Mind), Young Minds and Samaritans.
What impact would you want Father Figurine to have?
Emma-Jane: It’s about encouraging young people to have conversations around mental health, talk about their feelings, and know there is no shame in that. It’s also to bring new audiences into theatres. We are still in an age where the average theatre goer is white middle class. I mean I’m white middle class, but it’s important to me to break those barriers, expand them. And the outreach work we do is about making high-quality art accessible to everyone. There is so much to be gained from being involved in projects, participating in residencies, and going to see a piece of theatre. I think the fact that Isaac and Tyrone are black professional artists is also important for young people to see and be inspired to think “I can do that”. That’s also very exciting. I think the kind of impact that can have on somebody is huge.
Isaac: I want to empower. I want the work to empower everyone who comes across it. And especially empower men and boys. We’re in an age where ‘toxic masculinity’ is at the tip of our tongues. And rightly so, that negative should be talked about and questioned. But I also believe masculinity is being targeted without a consideration of its positives. I want Father Figurine to be a part of the conversation of men and boys talking about the negatives and challenging them; and most importantly embracing aspects of masculinity that can strengthen and heal us. It’s okay to be vulnerable. If anything, that’s the message I want this work to share. It’s okay for men and boys to be vulnerable.