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Beautiful Man flips the script on gender roles

By Nimra Amir, March 10 2024—

Presented by Downstage in co-production with Handsome Alice Theatre and Verb Theatre,  Beautiful Man ran in Calgary from Feb. 29 up until March 10. This satire about the portrayal of women in film and television follows these friends through their whirlwind tour of the world that gives women all the power with leadership positions among society as politicians, hunters, queens or policewomen — all while they gaze upon the semi-nude Beautiful Man.

It is through this reversal of society as we know it that we can expose just how insidious the toxic aspects of popular culture can be through playful audacity.

Beautiful Man is really taking gender roles in the media and flipping them on their heads. And so, the things that we’re kind of accustomed to experiencing in the media — and it’s shifting and changing, obviously — but I think it’s still quite prominent that we experience men as the heroes,” said Clare Preuss, the Artistic Director of Beautiful Man

Even beyond the media, there have historically been systems that have allowed for the maintenance of hierarchies that place men in positions of power instead of women based on assumptions made about gender roles. As our world progresses, these assumptions about gender roles have been challenged but that is not to say the world without these gender roles has been achieved. The media, which has often served to reflect much of the world around it, has not been much different and this is what is poked fun at throughout Beautiful Man from obvious aspects like women being objectified in the media to more nuanced takes like how subversive that sexual violence in the media can be.

“I saw Beautiful Man and I thought, ‘Wow, this script is so brilliantly precise and really takes us from what I like to call mainstream experimentalism and stretches us into this place of just imagination and real-world building,’” Preuss said. “I mean, she builds a whole other alternative reality where women are the ones with the power.”

Is this the reality that we want to live in? Of course not, but that intuition that this extreme is absurd is exactly the point being made to show just how absurd the other extreme is too. 

Downstage, who are focused on invoking social change through emotional experiences, artistic experiences and conversation, have allowed Beautiful Man to make this point through comedy. 

“I really love social change through humour in terms of art,” Preuss said. “There’s something about comedy, because it opens up your heart, and I think when your heart’s open and you’re sitting in a group of people in a live theatre, and you’re all laughing, there’s an ability for your mind to kind of open to new possibilities.”

For women, Beautiful Man is an opportunity to be represented and ultimately, to be seen in our daily struggles against sexism that does not just go away when we put on a movie or TV show to relax but in fact, follow us nearly everywhere that we go. However, Beautiful Man is just as much of an opportunity for men to take in another perspective of the reality that they exist within but just do not get to experience. In this way, Beautiful Man can work to create even greater understanding between the two groups — who have been historically pitted against each other — in agreement of just how absurd these gender roles can be for anyone involved.  

I don’t think that we need to have a complete flip and I think Beautiful Man actually shows that a complete flip is not healthy,” Preuss says. “We don’t have to do the same thing to be powerful. We can be powerful in different ways. We can have freedom in different ways. We can have joy and satisfaction in the ways that are authentic to each individual.”

Downstage continues to shape the future of what theatre can be with insightful plays like Beautiful Man that can touch on more serious topics like gender roles through comedy. To keep up with the shows and buy tickets, you can visit their website

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