'MAN UP!' Challenges Our Perceptions of Societal Norms

Nothing's off limits for four brave (& fabulous) men in heels who embrace their vulnerabilities to redefine masculinity in their "sinfully flawless" Fringe show

by emil tiedemann

IT'S perfectly normal for a young boy to venture into their mom's closet to try on a pair of her bright red or leopard-skin high heels. It doesn't mean he's odd or that he's going to grow up to be some sort of weirdo with a foot fetish; and it certainly doesn't ensure that your son is going to be gay! It's quite natural. 

The cast of 'MAN UP!' from left to right: Jordan Sabo as Kidd Crimson, Gregory Caswell as Tres Debonair, CJ Rowein as Rusty Kingfisher, and Joshua Wolchansky as Fitzgerald Bitchwilliam III!

But, if your son is like most young boys who try on mama's 3-inch pumps, then he's most likely doing it when you're not home or at least not watching. He does it in private, because our society has become so indoctrinated with the inescapable and - and in many cases - non-negotiable rules regarding gender and fashion.

Somewhere along the line, cultures all around the world got used to the abnormality of the intertwining of these two things, gender and fashion. Men simply weren't supposed to wear dresses, carry purses, or walk down the street in high heels.

Local actor and performer Gregory Caswell couldn't care less, however, refusing to surrender to our culture's unwritten rules of who can wear what! In fact, he bases his 11th Fringe show, MAN UP! - which stars four men in high heels - around challenging gender equality, vulnerability and masculinity. 

'MAN UP!' is the 11th Edmonton Fringe production from performer, writer and co-director Gregory Caswell! You may know him best from his popular 'Spearsical the Musical' shows, set to the music of Ms. Britney Spears, bitch!.

"The high heel in the show is a metaphor for the labels that we put on ourselves," explains Caswell, who has been performing at the Edmonton Fringe (August 13-23) for more than a decade. "We apply so much meaning to things that do not matter - a shoe with a higher heel becomes a symbol of femininity and sexuality. True happiness lies in the courage to be yourself, without labels.

"There are many things we have designated to be male and female - take for example the colour pink," he continues. "It's white and red combined, and yet we apply the meaning of femininity, homosexuality, etc. The heel has the same connotations. And yet, it's a shoe with a higher heel." 

Caswell wrote, co-directed and stars in MAN UP!, his way of challenging anyone who comes to see it to check their perceptions and preconceived notions at the door. He hopes the men in the audience will allow themselves to be vulnerable and to embrace the inevitable glee of being authentically yourself. In other words, man up!

"Why is it wrong for us to feel empowered and sexy?"
 

"I've spoken with many men of all sexualities throughout the process of creating the show, and everyone has a story of the first time they wore a heel. Everyone had something in common - they felt empowered and sexy when they wore them. And yet, for us to wear them outside of our homes, mother's closets, sober, etc., is a major faux pas. Why is it wrong for us to feel empowered and sexy?"

Caswell's own fascination for this societal "faux pas" began long ago, but he only recently came up with the concept for MAN UP! when, about a year and a half ago, he came across Yanis Marshall on YouTube. Marshall was performing Beyonce's "Grown Woman" on the some European version of So You Think You Can Dance, dressed almost entirely masculine, if not for a pair of "badass heels" on his feet!

   
French dancer & choreographer Yanis Marshall inspired Caswell to write 'MAN UP!'

"There was something about his confidence that excited and challenged me," Caswell admits. "He was fearlessly gay, sexual, masculine, feminine, stunning!"

One thing that wasn't on our minds in Marshall's video was his vulnerability, which is the other key element of MAN UP! Caswell says he was inspired by another viral YouTube clip, in which scholar and author Brene Brown discussed The Power of Vulnerability

"She expressed that men struggle with vulnerability because it's interpreted societally as weakness when in fact, being vulnerable is the most courageous thing a person can be." 

And there's no denying it takes courage to get up onstage to dance and perform in high heels with three other men, perhaps more so for the one cast member who happens to be straight. In telling their story of masculinity, of vulnerability, and of "genderfucking," these guys naturally possess all of these very attributes. 

"The heel transforms you!" says Caswell, who has also trained in both pole dancing and boylesque performing. "I feel confident and sexy in them...they allow that bold part of you to come through - the part that says, 'here I am world'...And my legs look insane!"

The boys will be performing eight 60-minute shows at Evolution Wonderlounge!

MAN UP! may not be for everyone, though most Fringe goers seem to be cut from the same cloth, and so are most of the time impartial and open-minded. It is, however, just the kind of theatre that defines the word "fringe": unconventional, experimental, not part of the mainstream.

"I think everyone is going to have a different reaction to the show," admits Caswell. "Some people are already comfortable with the concept, where others will be challenged. Ultimately, I hope people leave feeling encouraged to just be themselves. It's the greatest gift they can give to the world. 

"But if they leave thinking, 'Wow! That was a really fun time,' I'll be happy too."

Leave your preconceptions at the door!

THE DEETS/

Who? MAN UP! was written by Gregory Caswell, who also stars and co-directs (with Sarah Torkoly and Joshua Wolchansky), and co-stars CJ Rowein, Jordan Sabo, and Wolchansky. It is presented by Next Stage Productions.

Where? Evolution Wonderlounge owner Rob Browhezke graciously donated the space, Edmonton's premiere gay club, to Caswell's production. Evolution is located in Downtown Edmonton, at 10220-103 Street, along the Boardwalk. 

When? 
Thursday, August 13 @ 8PM
Friday, August 14 @ 8PM
Saturday, August 15 @ 8PM
Sunday, August 16 @ 8PM
Wednesday, August 19 @ 8PM
Thursday, August 20 @ 8PM
Friday, August 21 @ 8PM
Saturday, August 22 @ 8PM

Tickets are $12 each. #MANHEELS

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