Ben Atherton-Zeman (pictured) says he is a “recovering sexist”, hence just the person to talk to men — as well as women — about abuse. Ten years ago, based on his work with battered women and other victims of gender violence, he combined his acting skills and voice impersonations to create Voices of Men. The play, which has been performed across the US as well as Canada, England, Turkey and the Czech republic, pivots around making men responsible for raising their voices until violence is a thing of the past. The play was staged at American Center on August 29.
Your play is distinct for using the voices of famous men to drive home a message. Who are these celebrity characters?
There’s Rocky Balboa, James Bond, Austin Powers, and Kermit the Frog. They have very distinct voices, different from my own and — apart from Kermit — they signify Western hyper-masculinity. Sean Connery (the first and among the most popular Hollywood actors to play James Bond) was accused by his ex-wife of being an abuser. The play has 20-minute scenes devoted to each character during which they undergo a transformation and realise what’s wrong and how they can be a part of
Why did you choose theatre as a medium for your message?
I found that when we speak to men about violence, they tend to become defensive. But not as much when it is presented as a comic drama. In Voices of Men, all the celebrity men whose voices I use, learn about gender respect the way I learnt it—from women. It is not only about rape and date violence but also about the daily indignities that women face.
I was always good at doing funny voices but the voiceover of Rocky Balboa was hard. I put in Kermit as a gift to myself.
India is becoming more conscious and strident about women’s abuse. Have you updated your play for audiences here?
No, except for the time in between scenes, when I go to change. I play public service recordings with messages about gender abuse and, in India, we are using the anti-violence messages of the “Bell Bajao” movement (an initiative in which people ring the bell of a house if they suspect acts of domestic violence), which I am a huge fan of.