Mark Edward looks intensely at the camera while holding a microphone, three dancers surround him with their bodies.
Mark Edward discusses sexuality and the ageing body in new production What Have YOU Done to Deserve This? © Geof Atwell

Performance expert Mark Edward is to bare all in a daring new show which tackles cultural and social stigmas attached to sexuality and the ageing body.

Dr Mark Edward, Reader in Dance and Performance at Edge Hill University, admitted he found producing new show What Have YOU Done to Deserve This? to be a cathartic experience, focusing as it does on his own life story.

The quirky performance piece, commissioned by the University’s Arts Centre, explores the absurdities of queer life through a playful mix of tragi-comedy via the inroads of drag, dance, theatre, stand-up (or stand-down), disco, rejection and destruction.

“The production is autobiographical; it feels like a release to put ‘me’ out there,” Mark said.

“I grew up gay in a working-class environment, homophobia was rife and I became a school avoider because of the abuse I suffered there, so there’s plenty of material for me to draw on from my childhood alone.

“However, some good did come out of it because a PE teacher spotted I had a skill for dance. We didn’t have enough money for formal classes but I became determined to make dance a career.”

Mark also highlights how he often felt policed and oppressed by what he describes as toxic masculinity.

“Being aware of what people think you should be, people’s opinions on how you should and shouldn’t live your life, can be very damaging; it can really impact on your mental health.

“I’m so aware of presenting the authentic self now, and my experiences have made me more resilient. Talking about being in pain can help ease it.”

Mark’s work in live art, dance theatre, contemporary dance practice and choreography relates to wider themes within social sciences and his academic research areas include drag performance, queer and class sexuality, body and pain, mental health, ageing and wellbeing in performance.

Mark Edward poses with three dancers wearing leather dog masks.
Dr Mark Edward bares all in rehearsal for What Have YOU Done to Deserve This? © Geof Atwell

One of his best-known pieces of work is Council House Movie Star (2012), featuring his alter ego Miss Gale Force, a research piece of performance art which explores the ethos of the working class hero or heroine.

“That’s still an important concept in my work, all the characters in What Have YOU Done to Deserve This? are lads growing up in a culture when men police men to be men, where masculinity itself causes problems for men.

“I also explore ageing and the body as a commodity; in the dance world you start to lose presence as you age so I’ve begun challenging myself in other ways.

“I love taking risks on stage; What Have YOU Done? is experimental so I’m excited to see how it plays out.”

Three Edge Hill alumni strike a pose in the dance studio.
Edge Hill alumni return to the Arts Centre stage for new production at Edge Hill University. © Geof Atwell

Returning to the Arts Centre stage alongside Mark, who is directing and performing in the show, will be Edge Hill alumni Tom Hayes, Ben Lee, Ted Wilkinson and Louis Ellis, who all studied Dance before graduating from the Performing Arts department in recent years.

Through their performances, ‘has beens’, ‘wannabes’ and ‘gonna bes’ come together in a working-class narrative underscored with themes of sex, class and toxic masculinity.

And as the warning suggests – “may contain nudity, bad language, bad attitude and 1980s music” – this is definitely not one for the fainthearted.

Tickets for What Have YOU Done to Deserve This? at The Arts Centre on Tuesday 19 and Wednesday 20 November at 7.30pm, are on sale from the box office and online.

Edge Hill University offers a variety of studying opportunities in dance and performance including BA (Hons) Dance and BA (Hons) Drama.