Theatre-maker Roslyn Oades spent 18 months immersed in the sweaty, “hyper-masculine” world of boxing rings, gyms and dressing rooms to create the gritty production I’m Your Man.
“The very seed of the idea came to me in 2011 after my first experience of walking into a boxing gym,” she tells InDaily of the show, which will be presented in Adelaide from August 7-11.
“I just fell in love with that space. I was really mesmerised by all the different things that were happening. The rhythms of the sound and the bells going off … but I also really loved the sense of community.”
A hit at the Sydney Festival and now touring nationally, I’m Your Man is the third work in a trilogy exploring acts of courage. The productions all employ the headphone-verbatim performance technique – a method in which actors wear earpieces through which they are fed an audio script, enabling them to speak the words of various real-life characters who have been interviewed and recorded.
The central character in I’m Your Man is a young Sydney boxer called Billy “the Kid” Dib (played by Michael Mohammed Ahmad), whom Oades and her collaborators set out to follow during what was expected to be a six-month lead-up to his world title bid. However, they ended up with Billy for the long haul when it took 18 months for him to reach his goal.
“He felt, as a teenager, like he was fighting for his family name all the time,” Oades says, explaining that the boxer is from a Muslim family and was often picked on at school because of his background and his Lebanese name, Bilal.
“That’s where his fighting spirit came from, and he’s one of the few world title holders from an Arab background.”
For the production, Oades interviewed successful boxers such as Tony Mundine and Jeff Fenech, as well as those who never realised their dream. She wanted to capture on tape the adrenalin of the dressing room and the boxing ring, as well as the fear underlying the confident words.
“It’s such a hyper-masculine word; there’s a lot of image and pride at stake when they climb those three steps into the ring.
“The only thing that’s certain when you are a professional boxer is that you will eventually lose … ultimately, there’s something quite sad about it.”
Oades (left) is a pioneer of the headphone-verbatim technique (also used in her Vitalstatistix production Cutaway – A Portrait), believing it enhances the audience experience to know that they are hearing real stories, including the actual words spoken as the character said them.
While actors adopt the accents, speech patterns and breathing of the people interviewed, they don’t necessarily look anything like the people they are playing. The five actors in I’m Your Man play a number of different characters and one of the failed boxers, CJ, is played by diminutive actress Katia Molino.
“She plays probably the most violent character in the play and it’s wonderful to see that performed quite accurately but in a different body,” Oades says. “Something I love about this technique is that I can have someone who doesn’t look like the character channelling their words.”
Oades says she met some wonderful characters during the course of her research, and was struck by the big-hearted natures of the professional fighters.
“The show is actually quite inspiring for anybody who loves the body and their sport, to see the discipline of this world.
“There’s lots of real sweat and the smell of Dencorub.”
I’m Your Man is being presented by Vitalstatistix and Mobile States at Waterside, Port Adelaide, from August 7-11. Roslyn Oades is offering a headphone-verbatim theatre workshop for theatre-makers and performers on August 8, with details on the Vitalstatistix website.
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