Kate Harman: if men don’t start showing their vulnerability soon, we are going nowhere

Kate Harman is a choreographer and dancer who has worked with companies across Australia and the world. She is also a proud Farmer – a member of the Gold Coast and Berlin-based dance theatre company responsible for some incredible work over the last decade or more.

Our national tour of The Farm’s acclaimed production Cockfight kicks off next week in Toowoomba before heading to Darwin and MoveMe Festivals and venues across Victoria, Tasmania, WA and Canberra.

Thom sat down with Kate to chat about the show, the company and their process, and the additional meaning this show has taken on as discussions around gender equality and male violence have picked up pace.

 

 

TS: Hi there! So you were key part of the making of Cockfight…what’s the work all about?
KH: Cockfight looks at the dynamics of male relationships, putting a magnifying glass on the transition of power between two men, one older, one younger. It deals directly with the moment when a student surpasses his teacher and the emotion of that shift, the fragility of aging and the redundancy that men feel when they are on the other side of their peak.

But for me it’s always been about Gav and Josh (the performers) and their real relationship, one that I have been blessed to witness over the course of the last 14 years. They moved from student and teacher to director and performer to Josh becoming Gavin’s right hand man to co-directing (in the making of this work) to now where they both run their own companies.

We wove the ideas around that reality, using the fictional place of an office. The office was interesting to us because it is seen as a classic masculine setting for a power play. We break down the fiction to reveal the truth. In the end it’s not only a Cockfight we witness. Gavin and Josh have a lot of trust so what emerges is their compassion, connection, vulnerability and care for each other.

TS: The team are all listed as co-directors…can you describe the creative process on the show?
KH: The Farm often use an approach that there is no director. Or the director is in fact the show itself and we are all just gathering around to try and listen to it. Often it means at the start of a process we might be pulling in different directions creatively but as the show emerges from its cocoon and we all start to see it for what it is, it becomes pretty obvious how we should feed it, nurture it and help it to fly.

That kind of metaphor makes it sound easy, which it’s not of course. There are a lot of arguments, emotions and confusion along the journey, but we try to trust our intuition and always come back to listening to the piece and what it wants to be. Fortunately, we’ve been working in this collaborative way for a lot of years, so we’re used to being annoyed with each other at times. It’s in those moments that it’s time to let the ego step aside and the choice is always clearer from that perspective.

The show features some pretty daring physical moments, with two boys throwing each other around the stage. It’s edge-of-your-seat stuff at points. How do you balance that thrill for audiences with the need to keep everyone in one piece? And how do Josh and Gav do it night after night?
They’ve been working together for a long time, so they have an intuitive understanding and trust that pretty much gets them through every situation. Managing fatigue is one of the biggest things, especially on a tour like this one. After the UK tour and with the final shows in Chile they were pretty exhausted and had to watch out. There was blood on the dance floor on the final night, although maybe the Pisco Sours had something to do with that.

While this is the first national tour of Cockfight, it has already appeared at Dance Massive and on tour in the UK and Chile. How has the show been received each time?
It’s always interesting to tour a show internationally and gauge audience responses, I think it says a lot about the differences of culture. I remember watching two videos of an old show Food Chain, one from Germany and one from Sydney. I was going back and forth from one video to another and what people were guffawing about in Australia was just a repressed titter in Germany. Cockfight in general has worked wherever we’ve played it, but sometimes for different reasons. In the UK, they definitely connected to the humour and awkwardness. The UK version of The Office is a favourite of ours so we weren’t surprised they connected to our show. In Chile there was sometimes a weird delay as they read the subtitles, or things we had grown accustomed to being funny suddenly weren’t.

The biggest differences we’ve found comes with age groups. In the UK tour we played shows at the university in Canterbury to a young student crowd and then the next stop had a much older audience. When Gav fails and falls apart the students found it hilarious and yet at the next show you could have heard a pin drop. Both audiences loved the show but the older group identified with the feeling of redundancy of that moment. It wasn’t funny to them in the least.

 

 

The concept of the show could seem pretty blokey – two dudes thrashing it out in an office. How do you see the show feeding in to current conversations around gender and male violence?
Most of my work focusses on the feminine so it’s interesting to me to work on Cockfight. We’d often joke that there were too many dicks on the dance floor. As for the justification for the work existing I would say that men still exist so it’s important to tell their stories as well.

Making space for men to have more than just a masculine quality seems even more important in this moment. In Cockfight we see these two men physically intimate and together. Without the other they cannot continue, they are in physical peril even. We deliberately explore and break the façade of what men feel they need to put up as a showpiece. We show both sides of these men, their feminine energy as well as their masculine. We are all both yin and yang. Men can be fragile and we need to make space for that to be accepted.

I remember hearing Brene Brown, someone who deals with vulnerability, speak about exactly this. After a talk she was once approached by a man who complimented her and told her she needed to write about men. She didn’t at that point see the reason for it, there was so much already, it was women’s turn. This man told her about the façade of strength he felt he was compelled to keep up, no matter what was really happening in his life. His wife, his daughters expected him to be strong no matter what. God forbid I fall off my white horse, were his words.

We need to make space for the feminine definitely and that includes the feminine within men too. Cockfight explores emotional themes that are complex and nuanced. This feels important and if men don’t start showing their vulnerability soon we are going nowhere.

What is up next for you? What projects are you looking forward to?
In November we premiere Depthless. It’s a show I created with Ben Ely from Regurgitator last year and has a season at the Judith Wright Centre in Brisbane in November and looks at the balance between the masculine and the feminine and the call for us to go deeper and beyond. We’re also cooking up some more really exciting projects outside of the traditional theatre setting, working again with our accomplices in theatre crimes, Bleach* Festival. We have some more shows in Berlin coming up too. The Farm are franchising!

Performing Lines identifies projects and artists that are contributing to urgent conversations happening around Australia and the world. What is a conversation you think Australia needs to have right now?
We are humanists. Our shows are about the topics that we feel are important and that concern us in our human plight of existing in this moment of time. Cockfight talks about themes of fragility, isolation, power and redundancy. It connects to a lot of people and we’re very proud of the impact it seems to have. A lot of the other work we have been making over the past four years is about climate change. It’s an issue that impacts everything else. We can’t ignore it and yet we seem to keep doing exactly that.

Compassion and empathy are at the core of our business and reside in our way of working and the work we make. We realise we are fortunate enough as art makers to have the opportunity to speak well about things we care about. We take that responsibility seriously.

 

Now touring

The Farm’s Cockfight
Produced in association with NORPA and Performing Lines

Touring nationally August – September

More info

Performing Lines acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we work – the Gadigal in Sydney, the Whadjuk in Perth, and the Muwinina in Hobart – and pay our respects to their Elders past and present.

We extend those respects to all First Nations peoples on whose lands we travel and perform.