Words By: Katie McAllister
“Hellie really wants you to get the guys perspective out there, would you mind talking to one of the guys in the cast?” The publicist told me over the phone. Hellie, the director of Project Xan, was unavailable for an interview. So I was going to speak to Marko Jovanovic, one of the actors I was told did workshops in schools and who had ‘learnt a lot’ working on this play.
“I’ve been a very lucky actor,” he told me over the phone, “Because most of the projects I’ve been attached to have had quite a social importance and relevance. They’ve been very human stories, about what binds us as a people. I think the reaction to Xan’s story is based on that, everyone has reacted to it in the same way; there is something ingrained in us that tells us what happened to her is terrible.”
What happened to Xan Fraser when she was twelve years old was terrible. She was plied with alcohol, gang raped at a party and then blamed in court for letting any of this happen to her in the first place. Now, almost thirty years later, she is playing herself in a play that tells her story and explores the complexities surrounding rape culture. Marko is one of the four other cast members, one of ‘guys’ Hellie was keen for me to hear from. Often when discussing deeply feminist issues, such as rape culture, with groups of friends of different genders, I’ve watched the men all kind of listen politely, not wanting to say the wrong thing. Sometimes, they look bored and as if they feel out of place, almost attacked by the comments my female friends and I make. I’m still trying to find a way that meaningfully brings men into these sorts of conversations. That is, without them feeling persecuted for anything they have to say (providing it isn’t flat out stupid and sexist) and also not just for the sake of it.
Tell me about yourself out of Project Xan.
For the last few years, I have been performing one man shows in schools nationally and internationally. The Amber Amulet by Craig Silvey has been one that I have taken through schools in the past few years. I’ve also done a lot of acting workshops, with primary school students all the way to specialist masterclasses. It’s turned out to be something I am really passionate about; taking the arts to people and places that might not always have access to it. Also, just being able to show kids that there is really a career in the arts.
Can you tell me how you became involved in Project Xan?
I became aware of the project when Hellie asked me to be part of a one day development last year. I came along with very fresh eyes. I remember reading that draft and just feeling completely overwhelmed; to the point of thinking, “I don’t want to hear this.” But I stopped, and thought, “Marko, if you don’t want to hear this, then this is the one thing that you should be working on. There is a group of people who have given their time, energy, passion and life to this project, it is worth hearing.” Hellie has done an amazing job with the script. She is constantly bringing people back to the kernel, back to the core of rape culture, asking why did this happen and how did this happen through telling Xan’s story.
What have you learnt about yourself in the process?
Growing up, my circle of friends was really quite male dominated and this was lingering with me as I approached the project. It’s been this real chance to look at information, look at it from more perspectives than my own and become more mindful in my everyday actions. It’s made me aware of my impact in rape culture and made me realise that rape culture is not something separate from our culture, it is our culture. It isn’t something extra, it is something that is happening right now. Sexual assault and rape, through all genders and ages, have very high statistics and we can’t hide from them. The sad thing is, statistically, if you have encountered some form of sexual assault, you are representative of the norm. Something has to change. Little things become big things. It can be as simple as speaking up when the banter isn’t quite right, not laughing at a rape joke; just not being complicit.
Xan has described the process of bringing the work together as healing. Does theatre have healing qualities in your experience?
Theatre is such a magical art form and platform. Sean Penn said something like, “Film is too powerful a medium to be wasted,” and I think theatre is the same. Theatre can’t afford to be about nothing; I’m a stickler for art being about something. With theatre, we get to experience something together, which is something that is happening less and less with the rise of technology. You get a shared experience with strangers; you have this shared history that is the show. This show should give a lot of people the chance to privately reflect on experiences in their lives.
So what would you like audiences walking away feeling?
I would hate for someone to walk away, after hearing Xan’s story and think, “Oh, what am I whinging about? What happened to me isn’t as bad as what happened to Xan.” This play is relatable and inclusive, it isn’t a bad story competition. I want audiences to leave the show more mindful. Being a man myself, I would like my fellow men to come along and see the show and to start thinking, like I have, about their behaviour when they go out. I didn’t realise how much effort girls go to make sure they are safe when they go out at night! If I had to as a man, I wouldn’t go out. So I want men to be thinking, when they go out, what is their main objective, and how can we do that in a more mindful way in future.
What would you say to your younger self?
If it doesn’t feel right, speak up. Don’t be afraid of being excluded from the boys’ club because you didn’t laugh at a dumb joke. You will find out that life outside the boys’ club will be so much better. Don’t be afraid to call things as you see them, because if you are making your mates mindful, you’re doing a good thing.