Real Men Don't Buy Kids (1988)

Real Men Don't Buy Kids poster


Real Men Don't Buy Kids was created in a 5 day workshop (a POWER PLAY) with 28 participants. The participants were all directly involved with the street on some level. There were 14 street kids, young men and women who have been living and working on the streets from two months to ten years. Other participants included women who were single moms who were on the street and had left and were working with Project Parenthood -  a group home/halfway house to help people get off the street. We also had 4 social workers, two street workers and a probation officer.

The workshop process was a fascinating experience from it's beginning. I walked the streets with the workers handing out condoms, understanding the 'bad trick alert' and meeting the people on the street. It was very important the participants be met on their ground and get a sense of the ethics of this work. These ethics are the base that the POWER PLAY  comes from: That they would able to determine the content of the piece and in fact that it was a chance for them to work as a community and show life on the street from their perspective; That it was titled Real Men Don't Buy Kids and would be about them.  This is an important part of the Outreach position at Headlines. This community have found in the past that they are given very bad reports in the press; a lot of  street life is sensationalized. In fact they felt used in the past. It was important that they understood that we at Headlines were not coming in as voyeurs or cultural thieves but as theatre facilitators.

I think it is a real testament to the street workers who took me out on their nightly walks and who were so encouraging to the kids they knew to get involved. Ian Mass of Family Services worked especially hard to get this project off the ground.


Real Men Don't Buy Kids was presented for two public shows at the Arts Club Theatre on Seymour street.² The Arts Club is in the heart of the "prostitution district" and directly around the corner from "boys town"  We had a late night show at 11 pm on Friday night playing to a full house that was about 65% street involved people. Sunday's evening show was also a live telecast on Roger's Community Television that was broadcast all cross the lower mainland, including Delta, Victoria and Mission. There was standing room only in the theatre and an overflow of 35 people watching the show on monitors in the lounge. The audience response was overwhelming as they jumped to their feet following both performances.

² The old Arts Club Theatre no longer exists on Seymour.


During the process Don Monet, a professional political cartoonist documented the process in cartoons and sketches of the images created by the participants. He painted 3 large images based on the experiences of the participants for a backdrop, the drawings were also used as a front of house display and for the closing credits on the telecast.

As well Michael Keeping who was the director of Roger's Community Television for Kitsilano participated throughout the workshop process. This way he could have a better understanding of the issue and how to translate the participants' ideas and stories onto television. This is the third forum that we have taken onto television. It was an important part of our creative relationship that he become intimately involved in the workshop process.

We found that it was also important to demystify the television medium for the participants so the empowerment process continued in spite of the fear that many people have of cameras and technology. This blending of community/popular theatre and community television has been an interesting marriage and we see opportunities for more creative uses of the medium in the Forum Theatre work. We are talking about putting cameras directly on stage with the action, more workshop coverage and using video to give immediate feedback for scene development.


Real Men Don't Buy Kids consisted of two plays. The first a was short skit of a fifteen year old runaway or " turnout". (1985 street language for a runaway who is new on the street) In this report I will be using street slang. This can give the reader some feeling for the project.

The runaway is put out on the street by pimps to prostitute herself; to raise money for drugs. They also give her drugs and we understand that she is getting hooked. This was quite a shocking scene with the young girl getting beaten up by her first customer. She goes back to the pimps who comfort her with drugs.  They use the girl's handle from her purse to wrap her arm to shoot her up and then send her back out to work.

Then there was the forum piece which was done in two scenes. The first scene was set in a coffee shop in downtown Vancouver. The scene opens at a table of three wealthy white upper-class women overhearing and commenting on three street kids sitting at the table next to them.  A young girl, Angie, dressed for the street, comes in and asks for help. A dealer is after Angie. He comes in and threatens her and tells her to get "off her ass and use it " to raise money to pay him. While this conversation is going on  her three friends sneak out on her. The dealer leaves and the three women talk about her and decide that she is just "street trash" and does not deserve any help. They leave Angie alone. She admits to herself that she has been on the street for four years and has gotten nowhere and wants to go home. She leaves.

The second scene takes place at Angie's sister's house. Heather is a single  mom, on welfare with one three year old and another fifteen year old, both boys. The scene opens with them arguing about the fifteen year old going out. She wants him to stay home. He is involved with street gangs. Through this argument the audience understands that Heather was also on the street as a young girl. He leaves but meanwhile she receives an eviction notice from her landlord. This is all overheard by a woman who lives next door.

Heather, phones her social worker and asks for a crisis grant to pay the rent. She explains that she bought winter coats for her kids, who were threatening to steal them if she couldn't buy coats for them. Heather is refused by her worker. She is also told that there is an eight month waiting list for the counseling that Heather had requested for her and her eldest son.

At this point Angie arrives and confesses she wants to get off the street and can she stay there.  The scene ends with Heather saying, "Of course you can but I've just been evicted. I don't know what we are going to do. But I know one thing I am not going back out there on the street and neither are you!"


There have been a number of requests about remounting Real Men Don't Buy Kids. Due to scheduling we would not be able to take it on until October of 1990. If something like this was to happen we would go into an intense three week rewrite and workshop process with a writer and designer. We would still use the street community to workshop and perform but eventually pare the numbers down to a cast of about 8-12. I think we would also use 3-4 professional actors in the company. These actors could work in the straight dramatic scenes with the street kids and then the forum that could possibly be a part of the evening would be done by the people with the street experience. This is the only way to have forum work successfully. I have seen forum done with actors and the audience does not take the situation as seriously because the actors can not improvise from true experience. But having professional actors will have positive effects on the dramatic scenes.   The piece could be both presentation and forum with the one story being told.

Most importantly we would want to address the issue of children and the street. How did these street kids who may now be streetwise become so? This theatre could be a challenging experience for the audience, for the society at large to question how we accept the transformation of our children into street people. We would want to use the longer rehearsal process to investigate on a much deeper level these issues of children. The theatrical form is a wonderful medium to analyze through art the situation, to touch people emotionally and to understand their role .

There are thoughts of perhaps turning the theatre into a street or taking the piece onto the street and then into the theatre. There are thoughts of doing it as theatre in the round.  There are ideas of using clown and music to introduce the characters, which could support the idea that these people are children dressing up and being forced out on the streets. There are tons of ideas running around in my head as creative ways to deal with the story.

This POWER PLAY  has a wealth of possibilities. These possibilities come from the realization that life on the street is full of "theatre".  There are secrets that need to be exposed about life on the street and the effect on it's children and workers. These stories alone could make a hard hitting and politically important piece of theatre. The forum style then brings a real challenge to the audience to examine their feelings and preconceptions about street people and the street's children, our children

Many members of this group are still working together and want to continue to do theatre on this issue. I will be working with them to develop the group's skills and develop material. At the time of this report the group is still meeting on a weekly basis.

In the program the company dedicated the play to, "...the street. .. the lonely, the disappeared, the murdered. . . the victorious."

Thank you.
Sherri-Lee Guilbert