Play explores masculinity in small town NZ

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Looking back on a challenging childhood is at the heart of a new play written and performed by Michael Metzger, of Wanaka.

The Changing Shed is a one man show addressing gay identity in a rural setting.

Metzger contrasts his experiences as a young boy under attack for being ‘‘effeminate’’ with his adult experience training for his first marathon.

Metzger grew up in West Otago and went to school in Tapanui before attending boarding school from fifth form (year 11).

The play explores this decade — from starting school in 1970 until boarding school in 1980.

The Changing Shed was about masculinity and gender identity rather than sexuality, he said.

‘‘I was what you would probably call a ‘sissy boy’ . . . that’s what others would call me.’’

Metzger’s interests as a child were past-times stereotypically associated with girls rather than boys, from floral art, to cooking, sewing and typing.

‘‘When I was a kid I just wanted to do the things I wanted to do.

‘‘I did boy’s things too, but it was very binary in those days.’’

As a result he was bullied.

‘‘It was a pretty brutal environment.’’

He felt marked out by his mannerisms and interests.

‘‘You grow up in the public eye really, whereas a more masculine boy that turns out to be gay is processing things, but it is not so obvious that he is ‘different’.’’

The school’s PE changing shed was a space that was supposed to be private without adult supervision.

‘‘So it sets up a Lord of the Flies scenario where ‘boys will be boys’.

‘‘It was a place where I was abused physically and verbally from age 11 to 15.’’

Although school was difficult ‘‘my family were amazing’’, Metzger said.

He learned later how his brothers defended him at school, and his parents were supportive of his choices.

‘‘They went in to battle for me to be able to do these things.’’

In the play Metzger contrasted his childhood experience to being an adult training for his first marathon, finding a sense of camaraderie that was missing at school.

The play was about overcoming the long-term effects of bullying and offering a message of hope and solidarity, he said.

– The Changing Shed runs from March 26 to 28 at the Dunedin Fringe Festival.
Visit dunedinfringe.nz for details.