who's a prettyAs Stephen Tadgh and Shaunna Lee Lynch prepare to bring their show ‘Who’s a Pretty [Insert Gender Here]’ to the Smock Alley Theatre, Michael Fitzpatrick sits down with them to talk about the inspiration behind their gender themed show.

Stephen Tadgh grew up with Action-Man and aspirations of being the next James Bond. Shaunna Lee Lynch grew up with Barbie and an unhealthy obsession with Britney Spears. Did this early exhibition of the perfect man and woman impact their adult life? Well, Stephen now goes to the gym six days a week and Shaunna has dyed her hair 12 different shades of blond in the last four months. Sat in a Rathmines Coffee Shop, across the road from their rehearsals studio, the two aspiring young actors meet to discuss their latest work, for which a poster hangs on a nearby notice-board, a stage production which deals with gender based stereotyping in modern day society.

The collaboration, set for two dates at the Smock Alley Theatre, is the first joint-production for either of the two acting students, and yet they seem unnerved. The co-written, co-directed piece, “Who’s a pretty… [Insert Gender Here]” is now well-rehearsed and nearing the end of its six month progression. The pair hope to see their hard work manifest itself in their securing of a spot in this years’ Dublin Fringe Festival. With such a hot-button topic at the heart of their performance, the pair are confident in its ability to impress.

Gender Stereotyping and its abuse in the modern day media is something both members of this two person production have had a committed interest in since before they ever met, and their original meeting is of particular interest. Shaunna describes: I did a piece during the summer for a festival called “solo sessions” that was on in the chocolate factory in Parnell Street. It was just a ten minute performance piece originally, which developed into a piece about women’s magazines. And just how silly they are and the instructions they give, and how if you try to follow them, you’d go mad. And Stephen went to the show, and approached me afterwards, because he had been working on something similar, except from a male perspective.”

This simple meeting of two performers catalysed the production, which is split into two segments, one which deals with the male, and the other with the female perspective on the issue. Shauna’s piece is centred on women’s magazines and the lucrative expectations inherent in their images and articles, whereas Stephen has taken a different approach. “What I’ve been looking at is how men are portrayed in advertisements, that kind of idea of the man being this really impressive, ripped, muscular six-pack bearing guy.”

Stephen questions the culturally accepted concepts of what is deemed to be masculine. “There are tips out there on how to be a real man, and what quantifies a real man. Real men have facial hair, and I’ve got friends who just physically can’t grow facial hair. Does that mean that they’re not real men? I was looking at male conditioning through TV advertisements and as I’m going through them, I begin to notice a common theme. It’s always something akin to men with women coming up behind them and touching their faces, because that’s what sells.

“This is what’s being sold to us as important. It’s not necessarily what we value or personally deem to be important, this is what we see on a constant basis and what we’ve ingrained into our own lives. I’ve just been looking at these rules and guidelines that govern that the idea of a manly, masculine man and how that transcends being born a man.”

It’s not all opinionated imprudence however and much research had to be conducted before any kind of real production was set in motion. “It’s such a delicate topic that I don’t think you can approach it with any kind of blind side,” declares Shaunna, whose investigation into gender based inequality saw her collecting statistics from wherever she could get them. “With women there’s a big thing that in 2013 only 28 per cent of the speaking roles in film were women. And there’s only really a handful of films where two women are pictured alone and are not talking about men.”

Stephen’s approach to pre-performance research couldn’t have been more different. He describes his self-imposed ‘Man Challenge’:  “I was going to do it for 30 days up until the day of performance. So that would be things like a real man drinks whiskey, so I’d go out one night and get smashed on whiskey or eat only bacon all day or something ridiculous. Essentially, trying to live up to these ridiculous standards. One of them was trying to gain a physique that I’m told by the media and pop- culture and all that is desirable. So I started exercising and doing Bikram Yoga and stuff, and I found myself, at the end of it, absolutely drained.”

However, the hard work is soon to pay off and the pair are certain that this production, despite its serious and relevant message, will be enjoyed by members of any gender or generation, due to its comic relief. According to Shaunna, “If you tell people how you feel about something, they’ll tend to shy away, whereas if you present something in a likeable and funny way I think it’ll stick more closely to them”. They are insistent that the show is an analysis of modern society’s values rather than a sermon on how to fix them. “That’s the whole crux of the show,” explains Stephen “we don’t want to preach to people, we want to say : ‘this is what’s happening’ and the actual form, structure and writing in the show, is all taken more or less directly from magazines and other forms of media that perpetuate these ideas of the quintessential human being.”

Stephen Tadgh from Good Buzz Productions and independent artist Shaunna Lee Lynch present their debut production, ‘Who’s a Pretty…[Insert Gender Here] at 7:45pm from 18-19th February in Smock Alley’s Boy School as part of Collaborations festival 2015.