Gavin Roach has been a powerhouse of one-man theatre since 2011’s smash-hit Confessions of a Grindr Addict. Roach’s subsequent shows—Any Womb Will Do and I Can’t Say the F Word—have celebrated sold-out seasons as well as hugely successful national and international tours. His latest offering, The Measure of a Man, forms an integral part of this year’s MELT Festival at the Brisbane Powerhouse. He agreed to interview himself to explain what his new performance is all about.
Thanks so much for joining me today Gavin.
My pleasure, thank you for having me. You wanted to know about my new show. The Measure of a Man is the second part of The Anxiety Trilogy, a series of works exploring, well, anxiety. The Measure of a Man is a very raw and personal look at body image, masculinity, sex and shame.
So it’s a comedy then?
Ha! A little. It has a really humourous and raucous beginning but then the story rapidly cuts to the feels. It’s not all doom and gloom though. The comedy is still sprinkled throughout and if at any stage the audience gets into a downer then they can just zone out and watch me dance around in my underwear. Did I mention I am only in my underwear?
No! You didn’t…
Well yeah, I’m in a rather tight pair of bright pink briefs. It’s a pretty gruelling régime to get my body in shape for the show: two hours at the gym and 60 squats a day to get that booty really bouncing.
Sounds tough. But, well I mean, you wrote the show, so why not simply write in a less revealing costume?
Well… um… I just figured that… well, given the themes of the story… I just…
Moving on. So, looking at the title itself, what is the measure of a man?
Ah, that’s complicated. There really isn’t just one way to measure or, I guess, define what a man is and hopefully the play explores that. I mean, it used to be easy, right? Guys had guy jobs, they played guy sports and did guy things and that worked. But it didn’t, ’cause it’s not as clean cut as that. There isn’t one definition and nor should there be. We really need to start chipping away these old ideas of how people should act and behave and embrace the wonderful and diverse ways in which individuals express themselves.
So would you define yourself as masculine?
Ha! Oh god honey, no! Not in the slightest. I’m about as masc as a fist full of glitter. I am femme and proud. I love my femme, it’s where my strength is, and there is freedom in it. Freedom to express myself the way I want and how I want. I don’t feel restricted and smooshed into a box that I was never going to fit in.
With that in mind, what is masculinity to you?
An outdated yard-stick with which we use to measure individual’s worth and make sure they adhere to a strict set of rules, actions and binaries.
You touched before on body image, can you elaborate on that?
Sure, so it’s kinda why I am in my underwear throughout the show or rather why I made that choice; I wanted to paint a certain picture on stage that is slowly broken down. I by no means have a ‘perfect’ body, even with all them squats, and that’s part of the crux of the show. Wearing so little means there is nowhere to hide, I’m exposed and vulnerable, doing my best to seem attractive and desirable, like so many other gay men that aren’t me.
Do you feel that there is a pressure to look a certain way in the gay community?
Not always, but there are times when I wished that I looked differently, just to see what it would be like… like, it’s one of those the-grass-is-always-greener kind of scenarios. With all that in mind though I think it’s always a bit refreshing when you get to see diverse queer bodies used in advertising or on the screen or stage.
I was wondering when we were going to get to this.
Well I had it once, and hope to one day have it again. But seriously, the show talks a lot about sex. I mean, a lot about sex. Not in a vulgar way, I hope, but I certainly don’t hold back. I draw on my own personal experiences to bring to light the way we talk about sex. So rarely do we get to the meat of it, those moments when things didn’t go according to plan or just didn’t work at all.
That’s where the idea for the play started. I was talking with a friend, years ago, and I opened up and very honestly talked about moments that happened to me during sex and how I felt at the time and after. I had no idea how my friend would react and I was humbled and taken a back when they teared up and said, “I thought I was the only one”. That was the moment for me that got the ball rolling and made me pay attention to all the things that we don’t say.
And when you say that the show draws on your own sexual experiences, will audiences discover more about you than they were bargaining?
Oh shit yes! Between describing the first penis I touched to miming out anal sex, audiences are in for a very truthful and eye opening experience. The stories aren’t too over the top or gratuitous but audiences have been known to walk out from time to time.
They walk out? Just get up and leave?
Yeah, there’s usually a few audience members that leave. Either it wasn’t what they thought it was or it all gets a bit too raw for them.
How do you handle that?
As long as they are respectful to the rest of the audience when they leave, I kinda dig it. A reaction like that, the compulsion to leave a performance, is a pretty strong reaction and for me as a performer I rate it up there with being able to make an audience laugh or cry. If people leave then they have been affected and that’s a job well done in my book.
So, moving on from everyone’s favourite topic to what is probably everyone’s least favourite… let’s talk about shame.
Ahhhh yes, shame.
Care to share?
Well, this is the bit where things get a bit serious; not too serious, but the show isn’t all underwear dancing and doodle jokes. My aim with the show was to open up a discussion, get audiences to really listen and take something away with them, something that will linger and compel them to continue the conversation, and the only way to do that is to talk about things that are often unsaid. During the incubation of this work, really early on, I kept thinking about the issues that I wanted to explore and wondered who was going to do it, all the while knowing that I was going to have to take a leap and just jump in, head first, and deliver what the audience and the work deserved, being totally and unashamedly honest.
Does it make you nervous, being that honest?
Yeah, every time! There are moments, during every show, often just before I go on, when I think, “What are you doing this for? Why does it have to be you?” Sometimes the show brings on crippling anxiety, usually after the show but sometimes even during, when I see the look in people’s eyes, now that they know so much about me; it can be really unsettling.
When I first did the show my best friend asked if I was prepared for people to know so much about me and I just shrugged it off and that was that but over time, as the show has evolved, it’s made me confront things that I wasn’t exactly ready for or had thought about for a long time.
Like I’m OK. But, if you see me after the show, don’t be afraid to buy me a doughnut or give me a hug… or even both would be cool.
Gavin Roach’s The Measure of a Man at the MELT Festival from May 17-19. For tickets and the full MELT lineup visit the Powerhouse website here.