Redefining the male body experience and shaking up the arts – an interview with Jani Toivola

mei 13, 2024 | Masculinities, News

With less than a fortnight to the premiere of Boys Won’t Be Boys in Helsinki, we asked Jani Toivola to share more about his collaboration with Dutch artistic director Rikkert van Huisstede and the themes of Boys Won’t Be Boys.

Toivola is joined by a dazzling cast including Rikkert van Huisstede, Roderick Kabanga, Julian Owusu and Jamie MacDonald among others on the 23rd of May when the show hits the stage at Svenska Teatern.

 

In earlier conversations you shared that you’ve become more and more interested in the male body’s experience and looking at how to create more space for men to be connected to their bodies and their different sensations. That through creating more space within the male body it is possible to redefine the whole concept of masculinity.

How does your work with Boys Won’t Be Boys build on creating this space? Have you discovered something new about your relationship with the concept of masculinity while preparing your piece?

Jani: Well, I think the biggest difference for me is that this is the first time that I share the stage with others while exploring the concept of masculinity and the male body experience and its different forms and expressions. I’m also sharing the stage with other bodies. So it’s this dialogue that I am most excited about.

Just being there for each other, being vulnerable and allowing others to be vulnerable, this is not necessarily something that we were taught how to do. It is one thing to create my own space for new expressions of masculinity but how does it feel to do that in connection to others? I see this performance as a space where it is possible to redefine the male body experience. I hope this will also resonate with the audience. I hope we are able to create this same kind of space of safety for them, too.

 

Boys Won’t Be Boys is very much needed on an individual level but my hope is that it could also shake the arts in general.

 

In an interview with Inês Carvalho for the Dance Art Journal you shared a formative experience from your teenage years, when you were performing on stage at school. You said that it “showed me the core part of myself that I wasn’t willing to negotiate or give up. That episode was the first time I recognised my core passion” and that “Every time you show who you are, you can find your allies, your community”.

In the words of Rikkert, the Boys Won’t Be Boys show is known for creating a space where people feel safe, that they are not alone, and that there is a place for them in this world. Is this what attracted you to this collaboration?

Jani: Yes, very much. Even in the arts I think that these kinds of spaces are still hard to find. Working as an actor in Finland I still often feel like I don’t fit the norm and therefore can feel very much like an outsider. I can feel how strongly the stage is still built on this old idea of masculinity. Boys Won’t Be Boys is very much needed on an individual level but my hope is that it could also shake the arts in general.

Jani Toivola lies back in the grass. He has his arms resting above his head. He is wearing a sheer black top and a necklace.

Jani Toivola. Photo by Puttonen Ruska.

 

How has it been to work on these themes with Rikkert van Huisstede? As an artistic director coming from the Netherlands, have there been unexpected elements or differences in working on these themes?

Jani: I love working with Rikkert. I feel like we have many similarities as artists; how we are positioned in our own countries and also as public figures. I feel like many of the questions Rikkert is asking as an artist are also very current for me. It feels very freeing and fruitful. Rikkert has done remarkable work creating the whole Boys Won’t Be Boys concept and the world around it.

 

Everyone is welcome as who they are.

 

And finally, you will stage your performance at Svenska Teatern together with the Boy Won’t Be Boys cast in just a few weeks. Any hints as to what we can look forward to?

Jani: Haha! I hope we dare to be brave and vulnerable. I know we will. I think it’s going to be both laughter and tears. Maybe even some dance moves. Most importantly everyone is welcome as who they are.

 

Boys Won’t Be Boys premieres at Svenska Teatern on the 23rd of May at 19:00, followed by a second performance on the 24th at 19:00. The Helsinki performances are now sold out!

The show will also be performed in the autumn, on the 20th and the 21st September 2024 at Oulun teatteri. Tickets will be available soon – follow us on Instagram to stay in the loop.

 

Jäbät & Tunteet (Dudes & Feelings) will be hosting a conversation club during the week of the premiere, more info coming soon! In the meantime here is a podcast episode (in Finnish) they did with Jani Toivola in 2021.

 

Boys Won’t Be Boys‘ international debut is commissioned and produced by the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux, produced together with Svenska Teatern and Oulun teatteri. The production is in collaboration with Jäbät & Tunteet and is generously supported by Svenska kulturfonden, Konstsamfundet, Otto A. Malmin lahjoitusrahasto, the Netherlands Embassy in Finland and Oulun Valistustalorahasto.

 

Cover photo: Jani Toivola by Puttonen Ruska.

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