During a college show last year, an audience member punched Norman Nawrocki in the chest.
Perhaps this is to be expected when you are dressed as a 7-foot-tall penis.
Despite the one assault -- and one death threat a few years ago -- Nawrocki continues to be very public with privates as he tours his latest show, Sex Toys. The hour-long cabaret is playing to large audiences of students who, by and large, have come to learn to love the giant phallus.
The death threat came from someone who had been arrested for being threatening to more people than just Nawrocki (pronounced na-Vrot-ski) but he takes some of the blame for the punch that came last year at Red River Community College in Winnipeg. Nawrocki admits he was performing a bit too close, perhaps, to the man in the front row. Ironically, the assault happened when he was talking to the audience about how not to be a rude and aggressive penis.
Nawrocki is proof that agitprop has gone collegiate. Once confined to political rallies and May Day parades, agitprop has found new life as an educational tool.
Previously, those well-meaning individuals who tried to make sex safer or sexuality freer had been victims of their own earnestness. But while posters denouncing homophobia continue to get torn down from university walls and sensitivity workshops fail to enlist the insensitive, Nawrocki has been drawing flocks of Canadian students to university auditoriums and cafeterias.
It's all a bit of a con, he admits. Just like his two earlier shows, My Dick & Other Manly Tales and I Don't Understand Women!, Sex Toys draws in students who, because of the advertised title, are probably expecting a sex farce.
Once the students are inside, however, Nawrocki tackles homophobia and sexism and also tries to promote lovemaking techniques that are at once playful and senstitive.
"My shows are trying to reach those people who can't be reached. You are not going to attract too many engineering students to a workshop on date rape," said the performer during a recent interview.
Nawrocki, who won't reveal his age or his own sexual orientation, became a self-described performance poet in 1985, having previously worked as a college administrator, journalist and bookseller.
He helped form a band called Rhythm Activism, which went on to produce more than 1,000 songs, most of them penned by Nawrocki. In 1998, the group had a college radio hit with the tasteful Jesus Was Gay.
If Nawrocki's shows owe a bit to the old Youth for Christ gambit of drawing unsuspecting audiences in with movies about motorcycle gangs who eventually accept Jesus rather than Annette Funicello as their personal saviour, they don't disappoint once the doors are closed, judging by the standing ovation he got recently at Montreal's Concordia University.
In Sex Toys, Nawrocki offers a fast-paced, farcical parade of 12 "characters," from an evil, tango-dancing, sexually transmitted disease to a shy young man intimidated by his girlfriend's overly enthusiastic masturbation. Another character is Virginia Vagina. Sporting a pink lamé hooded poncho, the cabaret performer hugged audience members at the Concordia show and let them know what Virginia most loves and hates.
As theatre, his shows are hardly showcases of sophistication. His vocal characterizations are either delivered in a constricted throat falsetto or a singsong tone. Fright wigs and sight gags are everywhere and the stereotypical Neanderthal male is Nawrocki's handiest character, trotted out as an angry homophobe or a leering lout. Indeed, without Rhythm Activism behind him -- the band is on indefinite sabbatical -- there's less rhythm and more activism. Female anatomy lessons are conducted and people get to watch a song and dance on the "misunderstood" sphincter. Campus resources are listed and even his sex-toy provider is given a plug at the end of the show.
Nawrocki says he has never pretended these shows are theatre. "I have a responsibility to address questions that need to be addressed in my role as a socially aware artist," he said. He recounts how one female student ran into him a few days after a show and talked about her boyfriend finally bringing up intimate issues. And more recently, two more people approached him: One of them whispered how scared she was to come out about her sexual orientation; the other confided horrible acts of sexual violence she had experienced. They both told him he must continue his work.
Sex Toys by Norman Nawrocki is touring colleges and universities in British Columbia this week. He's in Atlantic Canada Oct. 23-27 and plays the Graduate Pub at Toronto's York University on Halloween. For more information on further dates, e-mail .