BENGALURU: New York-based theatre artiste Martin Moran stayed silent till he was 30 about the sexual abuse he had suffered during his childhood. In his third decade, he felt the need to dig out the past, and question himself,“What happened when you were a kid, Martin?” From that shattering question resulted two monologues — The Tricky Part and All The Rage.
The two plays produced by Poorna Jagannathan (who also produced Nirbhaya earlier this year), are being brought to Bengaluru by Moran next week. Both narratives deal with his sexual abuse and how he rebuilt his life after the emotional destruction it caused, says Poorna.
Moran was sexually molested by a teacher when he was a boy. Through years he fought with the trauma and only later understood that it was not his fault.
“There was a kind of imperative need inside me to understand the complexity of my feelings around what happened when I was molested by an older man. It went on for some years. While a crime, it was also very complicated because he was also a teacher and in ways a friend. He wasn’t just an enemy. It was chaotic, hurtful and well, complicated. I had to write about it,” says Moran.
And this is how his first play The Tricky Part was scripted. The second play, All The Rage, was a reaction to the first monologue.
“Some people asked, ‘Why aren’t you more enraged about the abuse you experienced as a kid?’ And suddenly I thought: have I not dealt with my anger? Is it buried inside me? And even more, what is human anger? What is compassion? Am I a messed-up guy in denial about being really angry? These questions sent me on a journey to examine anger and compassion and where they meet in human life. And somehow this question of anger and forgiveness led me to a kind of transcendence — that the deepest truth of all is that we are one. We know this on some deep level, but how do we live it? How do we practise it? This is what All the Rage attempts to touch upon,” he says.
The actor recalls there were other boys who were going through a similar ordeal.
“We young boys had an awareness of something rather dark and sinister going on but we didn’t dare speak about it. The guy — besides abusing us — was also a leader and a teacher. He had charisma. Yes you see... it’s a kid’s job to fall in love. It’s an adult’s job to have boundaries. Period,” he says.
For years Moran felt “stained and undeserving of love.” For him it was something he allowed to happen. “It took me years to realise what a sweet great kid I was and what a good man I am. I know that now and that is a gift. But it was hard work and thank God I held on to see the day. Many don’t,” he adds.
When he first began telling his story he felt vulnerable, ashamed, even embarrassed. “By attempting to tell and examine the truth, you begin to ‘own’ the story less. It is less you and more simply human,” he says.
Both the plays are layered with humour. Moran uses comedy as he sees it as a way of inviting everyone into the deeper territory of complex human questions. “We need to laugh in order to trust one another and sit together to talk about the tough stuff,” he says.
Quoting various studies, Poorna says in India, one in two boys is affected by sexual violence.
“At a time when we are actually beginning to speak about sexual violence against women, sexual violence against boys is barely spoken about, although it’s clearly an epidemic as well. Martin’s willingness to explore a subject that is often called a ‘can of worms’ is exactly why I wanted to tour him in India,” she says.
So when she asked Moran, he readily agreed.
The plays, she says, will bring mass awareness.“When we start dealing with sexual violence against boys and men, we will actually make a headway in solving sexual violence against girls and women. For it requires us to redefine masculinity. Right now, being masculine means that you cannot be vulnerable. Because somehow vulnerability has become a strictly feminine trait. Once we start allowing boys to be vulnerable and say that it’s possible for men to be victims as well, I think then we will start seeing a true shift,” she says. Recalling the time when she came to Bengaluru with Nirbhaya, Poorna says,“Every night, in every city we would have a post-show conversation. I’d ask people to raise their hands if they or someone the knew had been affected by sexual violence. In most cities, 50-75 per cent of hands would go up. In Bengaluru one night, we had 100 per cent of the audience raise their hands. That is the city you have. Open, progressive and unafraid to confront the truth. Seeing women who looked like my mother and grandmother in the audience was extremely moving. We all have our stories yet we have never spoken of them. And then to see these women break their silence was perhaps the most significant thing I’ve experienced.”