‘The Suit’ – an exploration of leadership in our 21st century world


~ The Suit ~

a re-imagining of Yoko Ono’s 1965 ‘Cut Piece’

in a 21st century soundscape

…exploring  the destruction and creation of male leadership styles…

created & performed with the audience

by mark trezona & martyn duffy, BridgeBuilders

at MAMLL 30th Celebration Conference, Lancaster University Management School

31st May 2012

This live art show is co-created with the audience and is made of:

+ a soundscape of alpha-male voices, chosen for their contemporary immediacy   and contradictory messages of hope vs. catastrophe, new possibilities vs. impending crisis, opening out to collaboration vs. staying in control;

+ a man in a suit;

+ a pair of scissors;

+ an audience invited to come and cut…

This performance is inspired by Yoko Ono’s 1965 action, Cut Piece, made originally against the US war in Vietnam and against men’s treatment of women, in which she sat motionless on the stage before an audience who were invited to come up and cut  her clothing.

In our re-imagination of this performance  we wonder how much has changed since then, asking:

what happens when we offer a man in a suit to an audience to cut?

What happens in each performance is over to that audience.

Our re-creation of Ono’s performance gives the audience a man in a suit and surrounds them inside a soundscape of voices of contemporary alpha-male leaders– organisation leaders and management theorists, politicians and bankers  – selected specifically for each performance.  These domineering voices of power are heard alongside more complex uncertain voices from David Harsent’s poem, Night, about the thoughts that wake in us when we escape our daytime selves, and from Mark Doty’s poem of city rage, Citizens, and from Janis Ian asking in her song, Matthew:  

What Makes a Man a Man?

What begins with questions about domination and the abuse of power becomes mixed up and blurred with ideas about responsibility and burden:

~ the onerous burden of all the responsibility of all of our expectations carried on the shoulders of our organisation and political leaders, cut through with the loaded requirement we make of our leaders to stand up and speak with authority;

~ the weight of ‘America,’ always seeping into our lives, cut through with the burdens of having to participate fully, to be a good team player and a good citizen, to be socially and environmentally responsible, that we are all expected to bear, and to bear more and better yet in this increasingly challenging and unpredictable world;

~ the oppressiveness / oppression of the western iconic male leader, still the mainstay of our lives and still deadly in his smart 21st century suit of shined up liberalism, still owning and wielding and maintaining and defending his power, cut through with the recognition that surface appearances will always be deceptive, and what we see in a man depends upon how we look at him.

All of this – and all of the many more things a man in a suit can mean – we offer to the audience to cut. 

And it is what they do that determines how much this is then a show of destruction and/or of recreation.

After the performance we all talk together to hear how different people have experienced this performance, and to explore and uncover the different meanings people make and the different ways these might be helpfully applied in our everyday working lives, as followers and/or as leaders.

The answers each time are made together by the people in the room that day…

We have been able to develop and try out this new version of our show at this year’s 30th Celebration Conference for the MA in Management Learning & Leadership at Lancaster University.  This performance was substantially adapted and re-tuned from the original version to work for people in a work context.  In our new show we draw out the voices of men in suits from organisational life, voices telling us how we should behave and what we should do at work, woven into the rhetoric of our political leaders telling us what we should believe and care about.

We want to bring this very different immersive and thought provoking workshop to organisations, to explore its potential to reveal and shape and extend people’s different responses to questions such as …

~ what do we want from our leaders? and how does this match with what we are getting at the moment?

~ what can we each do to influence and shape the leadership around us?

~ as leaders, what impact are we trying to make, what effect on people do we want to have, and what do we expect to get back from people in return?

~ to what extent does our leadership continue to rely predominantly on male modes of thought and behaviour?

~ what does hearing different leadership voices offer to our understanding?

~ what does what we do with a pair of scissors, a standing nameless man in a suit, and complete licence to cut teach us?

~ how much do we want to destroy this ‘man’ and how much do we choose to recreate him in a form more of our making?

~ do we become a unified group and work together?  or do we prefer to claim our rights to respond as an individual?

~ and what might we do out from this experience to reshape and sculpt our work as a leader and/or with the leaders around us?

What happened last week was that people not only responded very differently, but then people made very different meanings about what had happened and what we should learn from this.  This is exciting.  Too often highly sophisticated and complex human interactions, such as leadership, can be reduced to overly simplified models.  We know that leadership is anything but simple; it’s real difficulty is manifest in the very high majority of people who report that their relationship with their boss is one of the most unhappy aspects of their work, as well as the number of leaders who report high levels of frustration about their people’s performance inadequacies.

what makes great leadership?

This performance offers a uniquely involving way to recognise and work with the many contradictory, difficult, rational and emotional complexities that entangle this question, without trying to detach from all the anxieties and necessities and expectations our contemporary world gives to it.  From the immediacy of the shared experience people get during this performance we can, together, start to talk more honestly about what actually happens in our leadership relationships and draw some fresh new ways to make them better and fitter for the demands of the organisation and its people.

We now want to find organisations who might be interested in working with us to develop their own version of this show.

We suggest a  half-day workshop  that would look at leadership and it’s people-related aims ~ and connecting specifically with whatever is live and for the organisation –  change and aftermath, innovation, team working,  engagement, empowerment and/or communications…

Our enormous thanks go to everyone who came and made the show with us lat Lancaster Management School and helped to take us to this next phase.  Thank you, too, to MAMLL for giving us this rare and luxurious opportunity to be able try and test our ideas on the floor and to check that this is a relevant and vital way for people who want to make their work lives better.

This is still work in progress and all your ideas are very welcome…

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