Phallacies in the Press

‘Phallacies’ performance grabs audience
Posted on 22 April 2010
The Daily Collegian 
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The performers of “Phallacies: A Masculine Performance” think it takes a real man to express his feelings and wear pink shirts. The performance of students concerned about dispelling myths about traditional male archetypes, held April 20 in the Cape Cod Lounge, sought to challenge the fallacies of traditional concepts of masculinity.

The performance consisted of two acts, with a mixture of sketches drifting between comedic and serious in nature, conveying messages meant to promote healthy male behavior.

According to a pamphlet distributed at the show, the more a man holds a strong belief in what the pamphlet described as traditional masculinity, the more likely he is to commit sexual assault, drive unsafely and abuse drugs and alcohol.

“When forming this group, we had several revealing discussions,” said University Health Services health educator and “Phallacies” performer Tom Schiff. “A group member brought up the idea that men had to decide often between being healthy and being traditionally masculine,” he explained.

Schiff said that he and his troupe ran with this paradoxical idea and incorporated it into their Tuesday performance, adding that he drew inspiration to create the compilation of sketches from the 1996 play about women’s struggles and relations “The Vagina Monologues.”

“Too often men don’t think about how it is to be a man,” said Schiff.

One of the more serious sketches the group performed was “Lessons from the Kickball Field,” where actor and UMass student Dennis Canty explained the pain of getting picked last for kickball in the fourth grade. Canty’s character explains that being picked last was a way to make him feel he was worth less than other students. The character explains that being discriminated against became a part of life as a gay adult man.

“Letters to Our Fathers” examined the relationship between a father and son, while “Crossing the Line” depicted a man being confronted by his friends about the abusive language he uses toward his girlfriend.

The mood was lightened with comedic sketches such as “That Guy,” which made light of the actions of a highly intoxicated guy at a party. Another humorous piece was “The Middle Stall,” where several actors portray the awkwardness and discomfort of using the middle urinal in a men’s bathroom, all to ask the question, ‘Why does is this an uncomfortable situation?’

“Testicle Talk” showed the humorous banter between the left testicle, “Lefty,” and his counterpart, played by Schiff. The pair encouraged self-examination for testicle cancer, a health risk for men.

“Hugging 101” showed the multiple variations of the male hug, from the awkward “A-frame” to the drunken group hug. The audience was subjected to witnessing two men wrapped in an intimate embrace for about thirty seconds.

The show discouraged the use of certain terms, like “no homo,” and phrases like “I’d hit that,” in a sketch called “Masculinguistics.” This sketch also examined how the history of some words, such as “suck,” actually perpetuates negative “masculinized” expressions through their users subscribing to pre-established codes of perceived male behavior.

The performance also explored so-called masculinities from different ethnic and class perspectives. In a sketch called “What’s Race Got to Do With It?” performers discussed topics including diversity among a group of Asian men sitting at a table together. A “yellow” performer explains that it is a “miracle” that at his lunch table are not just other “yellow” men, but Koreans, Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese all coming together, regardless of the various historic differences between their countries.

Meanwhile, a white man expresses his frustration with being what he calls “just another face,” and a “black” man articulates his struggle to reconcile his identity in what he considers a white man’s world, lamenting that, “To be a full man means to be a white man, anything else is less than, therefore, I feel less than.”

The play also sheds light on “the real cost of drinking” and focuses on how abuse can transcend the physical and include emotional trauma.

“I think they did a really good job representing different racial and class backgrounds,” said UMass alumnus Margo Bossom.

“This show is not a solution to sexism,” said Bossom, who works in community engagement, “but it is a good way to start talking about it.”

The last sketch, “From This Day Forward, “challenged the audience to initiate conversations challenging the traditional form of hegemonic, or dominant, masculinity.

The end of the show was met with a standing ovation.

“I think the performance went really well,” said Scott Aldrich-Holmes, a performer. “This is the first time the group has performed as a whole.”

“[The show] was nerve wracking,” said Aldrich-Holmes, who is a member of the troupe for the first time this semester. “But I hope next time we are given a bigger venue than the Cape Cod Lounge.”

Phallacies was sponsored by the Center for Health Promotion, University Health Services, UMass and was funded in part by a grant from the UMass Arts Council.

Bobby Hitt can be contacted at Jillian Pasciecnik can be reached at

See the original article on the Daily Collegian website.


CMASS Spotlight: Taj Smith

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During the 5 years that he has been on campus Taj Smith, a doctoral student in Social Justice Education, has definitely made a dent in the UMass community.

One of the many things that Smith is heavily involved in is the male performance group Phallacies that is geared towards male issues. Currently a part of the UHS Center or Health Promotion, the program started as a vision from co-facilitator and colleague Tom Schiff who wanted to create a male theater group after participating in “Not Ready for Bedtime Players”. Schiff felt the need to do something for men and Smith conveniently came along looking for an internship while working on his dissertation and “teamed up” with Schiff to create the program.

When Phallacies began they initially worked without a model and were inspired by Body Politics and the Vagina Monologues; but, over the past four semesters it has truly evolved into its own.

The program has two components that consist of having a dialogue where men talk about various topics for four to five weeks with a new topic discussed in each class. Some topics that have been discussed are relationships between sons and their fathers, masculinity within bi-sexual and homosexual relationships, sexual health and risky behaviors.

“ We have the dialogue part to really probe and push people to think about their own stuff before they go out and try to educate other people,” says Smith.

With each topic students are told to write a piece about that topic and once stories are received they are edited and merged to create performance pieces, making the monologues become a reflection of everyone's stories.

Smith also mentioned that, “Some people stay on board with us from semester to semester... So even the stories of the people who have graduated or have left UMass still get represented.”

From this program, Smith feels that students have the opportunity to get an alternate male bonding experience that is outside of the conventional male conversation. They are able to open up about issues that they may not be comfortable talking about with their male friends.

Smith says, “they may feel like they have to act a certain way... that doesn't necessarily agree with who they really are but because of peer pressure or cultural expectations of what a man means they feel like they have to do that outside of the classroom. [Phallacies] allows them to be more of who they want to be, allows them to be freer and be their genuine selves and not have to put up this mask or facade.”

In addition to developing new friendships, Smith also mentioned that students become more aware of their “gendered” behavior. However, Smith says that “we're not saying that we're going to transform these guys in four months, that's not gonna happen.” rather, they are a work in progress.

The learning doesn't just stop with the students, within Phallacies there is a great amount of reciprocity in the student facilitator relationship.

Smith says, “It forces me to look at my own stuff... It makes me really think about my own behavior and my own intimate relationships, and my own language that could be or is sexist or homophobic.”

In addition to his involvement in Phallacies he has also been an instructor of Education 210 a Social Diversity in Education for 3 years. The program has also helped to motivate him in continuing his dissertation work which focuses on college masculinity and pushing for courses on masculinity. Smith also stated that there are not many opportunities for men to talk about masculinity and that when people think of gender studies it’s usually towards women. Smith is currently working towards having men represented as well as women.

Netha Gill – CMASS Editor 

See the original article on CMASS Website.