Why Now That We're Men

From Katie Cappiello, writer and director

 Alphonso Jones and Fred Hechinger

Alphonso Jones and Fred Hechinger

In my nine years as a playwright and director, I’ve produced six plays exploring the challenges facing girls and young women locally, nation- ally, and globally. Now That We’re Men is my first feminist collaboration with boys. I can’t help but think, why did I wait so damn long?

This journey started with girls; and it started with sex and sexual assault. SLUT: The Play, which debuted in 2013 and has toured ever since, presented me with an opportunity to engage in honest conversation with people, including young men, in cities across the United States. Immediately, it became clear that boys—alongside girls—are battling rape culture and utter confusion about consent. Boys are struggling to live up to impossible standards of masculinity, just as they’re dealing with the tumult of growing up and coming into their sexual selves.

Developing this play felt necessary and urgent. If we want to effectively address issues like slut shaming, revenge porn, trolling, sexual harassment, sexual assault, homophobia, violence, binge drinking, group aggression— to name a few common, pernicious issues—we have to care about what it means to be young and male today.

 Caleb Grandoit

Caleb Grandoit

Yet even as a lifelong feminist, with great men in my life, I never thought to carve out that space in my work for boys—until I saw how moved guys were by SLUT. They were sincerely grateful for the opportunity to sit in that audience, join the talkbacks, and participate in the workshops—as if they, too, had been waiting to pull these issues out of the dark. When I approached Caleb, Fred, Jordan, Rayshawn, and Alphonso—the original cast—about being part of this play, I didn’t finish my sentence before they said yes. Caleb, in fact, said, “Oh, 100 percent yes. I’ve been waiting for this. I’ve always wanted to do something like this because guys are going through it, too, you know? So I’m definitely in. Are we starting today?”

They were excited. For my part, I was nervous. The guys had been training with me for a while in my advanced acting class—there was a rapport and trust—but would they really open up? They’re high school boys (aged fifteen to eighteen) and I’m thirty-five and a woman and their teacher. Would they feel free to be completely honest?

 Jordan Eliot

Jordan Eliot

Did they ever. In fact, once we got the conversation going, it was a challenge to wrap things up each session. There was so much to dig into. We pondered things like who is harmed when the words “pussy,” “gay,” and “fag” are thrown around constantly in middle and high school hallways? What is it like to participate in a culture where the most popular video games on the market give points when players (mostly young and male) rape and kill women? What does it mean when on average a boy first sees hardcore porn between eight and eleven years old, or when some of the biggest names in the music industry tell Rolling Stone the best thing they’ve ever done in their lives is pimp women? What do boys think when professional athletes beat their girlfriends and wives, and then not only have women lining up to date them, but have promotional contracts with some of the biggest brands out there? What do boys think, feel, and learn when female classmates are called out for dress code violations, implying that the bare midriffs, knees, and shoulders of girls are offensive, distracting, inappropriate—or slutty? Perhaps most underexplored, what dynamics do individual boys observe at home with their parents and siblings? After working twelve hours a week for three months with this talented ensemble, I was able to write Now That We’re Men.

 Rayshawn Richardson

Rayshawn Richardson

The goal with this project is to tell the truth. We can’t move forward if we aren’t brutally honest about where we are (and where boys are) right now. That being said, the incidents and language in Now That We’re Men will be offensive to some. I understand that, but I don’t apologize for it. Everything in this play is inspired by real experiences of young people I’ve met across the country. There’s no point in sugarcoating it. Yes, the characters often deeply upset me—but I wholeheartedly care about them, just like I care about the complex, brilliant boys who helped me create them. This play is not meant to excuse certain behavior or attitudes. Rather, it is an opportunity for us to understand boys and their experiences and to let them tell the truth about who they are and what has happened to them.

 Katie Cappiello

Katie Cappiello

Following our first open dress rehearsal, a friend of mine asked the cast, “Are you worried about putting all of this out there? Are you comfortable saying all of this?”

The boys looked at each other as they packed up their backpacks in silence, clearly conflicted. Then Alphonso said, “Yes, I’m worried. And no, I’m not totally comfortable—because this is uncomfortable stuff—but I’m glad I’m one of the guys saying it out loud.”

Jordan followed: “This conversation isn’t happening anywhere but in here. We’ve all been changed by this experience, and we think the audience will be changed, too.”

My friend responded, “Fucking brave.”

I agree. Fucking brave, boys. And seriously fucking feminist.