Thursday, 19 July 2018

FYPM

Over the past few years, there have been quite a few shows dealing with the experience of women working in strip clubs, and they seem to divide into two types. One is a generic tale of woe, often written by an outsider (even a man), in which the main character is a stereotype (drug user, a student trying to make ends meet) etc; the other is the more complex analysis from someone who might have worked in the industry (or, in the case of The Illicit Thrill, studying it at PhD level). What category does your show fall into?

I think this question is about authority to tell the tale (which you can answer in whatever way you feel comfortable), what your intentions are and how this manifests on stage..

This is a show for the community by the community, it’s a fictional story but taken from lived experience.

My intention is to transcend the tired public narrative that sex workers always get pigeonholed into either “happy hooker or tragedy porn”...

My intention is to create a show that is neither. It’s certainly not a generic tale of woe.

The public view of what working in stripclubs is like is so skewed, and I want to create a show that honours the things that are beautiful about it and damns the things that are unacceptable about it. Part of this is how the public unconsciously play a role in those things.

Since I am a man, I could be seen as having a vested interest in defending the right of women to work in lap-dancing clubs: isn't it very convenient for men to turn the idea of a woman working there into a matter of freedom of expression rather than an example of the patriarchal commodification of sexual desire.

Is the tension between the right to earn money - perhaps for women who don't have many alternatives - and the consequences of the existence of lap-dancing clubs, such as the perpetuation of the acceptability of the male gaze - part of the dramatic tension within the show?

It’s a shame that men feel jeopardised when it comes to being allies to sex workers, because society sees them as “only interested in one thing”.

I hope that de-stigmatizing the industry will also help destigmatize the “creepy” fictional consumer who are really just peoples nice dads, brothers and friends, who are are sometimes creepy and shitty to sex workers  because societal stigma has told them that’s ok.

In the show we explore the tension between sex work being real work! And the societal stigma that hurts, isolates, silences sexworkers.

The most dangerous and damaging thing to sex workers is societal stigma which has people not listen to their needs, exclude them from society, permits people to treat them with disrespect.

Can you elaborate a little on the notion of 'sisterhood' that is mentioned in the press release?

Because he public view of sex workers is so different to the experience, that means that only other workers “get it” usually. So there is an innate affinity when to strippers meet, like being part of a some sorority. They are the only people with whoom you’re not talking through a whole wall of preconceptions.

Stripclubs are tough places to work. The management, screw you for high commission, extortionate House fees, they hire too many girls which creates a competitive environment, the heat of these conditions bring you closer together.

Also I see all strippers as highly powerful women which is intoxicating to be around. Society tells women to be small, and quiet and easy, in a stripclub a woman can wear their sexuality freely, take up space, demand pay for emotional labour.

If stripclubs weren’t run exploitatively, and their was no stigma. Stripclubs are the one place where the rules could be reversed, where women rule the roost.

And how would you answer the Scottish parliament's attempt to limit the number of lap-dancing clubs in specific areas? I believe this is similar to the 'nil' law in London.

These laws are responding in part to the idea that those working in the sex industry are more likely to suffer violence than other people.

The idea that the best way to tackle violence against sex workers is to close their places of work is completely illogical. Closing clubs won’t stop stripping, it just pushes it underground, there are many illegal underground clubs and and private parties which don’t have proper security and the women working then are more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Also taking away people’s livelihoods makes them less safe.

What about asking them how best to protect them at work? Giving them proper workers rights? Breaking societal stigma against people who do those jobs?

Also, if there’s a concern about exploitation by management or customers then why are the people writing and reporting on this legislation talking to the club owners and not talking to the girls?

If you were doing an expose on the Amazon warehouse you would interview the people working there under exploitative conditions - you wouldn’t just ask Amazon to make a statement, would you?!

It doesn’t seem to me that anyone is actually concerned with the safety of the dancers in these clubs - otherwise they’d be speaking to them about what they want and need.

Instead, closing sexual entertainment venues is a moral crusade. It’s social cleansing. That’s the other reason being put forward for closing strip clubs - vague distaste from people naive to the fact that some others don’t fit into their personal idea of what society should look like - whether because they don’t want to or they don’t have the privilege.

They’re naive to the fact that financial stability is important to some people - and that stripping is one of the one jobs that gives women more access to financial independence than men.

People who do sex work face a societal stigma which says that they are worthless objects, incapable of making their own decisions or deciding what’s best for them - not even worth consulting about legislation which affects them.

That’s what leads to violence against people who work in the sex industry - the stigma attached to what they do. A base lack of respect for them as people, which comes out in the behaviour of some customers and in the behaviour and attitudes of the general public & government, of the police, of “well meaning” women’s groups who have never actually talked to a sex worker in their lives. And who’s campaigns make the women they are concerned with more unsafe.

Why did you decide on theatre as the medium to explore this idea?

Stripping started in theatres in the uk, stripclubs are entertainment venues, with stages and live performace. I think that the similar dynamics of Theatre lends its self perfectly to telling the story of a stripclub.

Also it’s leaves no room for voyurism like when watching tv, Film, scrolling on the Internet. In a Theatre show you are in the same room look each other in the eye, and interact and speak with the character of a stripper for an hour.

Ultimately, stripping is still so misunderstood, and stigma seeds violence towards sex workers. I’m waging artistic war on Sex worker stigma.

I trailed off a bit in the blather of my questions there, but here's a big one again... I am trying to cultivate a modest gaze, a kind of opposition to the male gaze that has been isolated as a way of seeing that reduces women to objects. I think the 'male gaze'  can be a bit of a default setting - taught by film and the internet, it promises a sensuous reward in exchange for setting aside concerns about the ethics of watching. It strikes me that there is a danger when dealing with sex work or stripping, despite positive intentions, that this voyeuristic way of seeing is being encouraged. Has this been a consideration in the creation of the work, and how would you address this concern?

Of course, with the show people are coming to watch me, yes, but mainly to hear me talk. Sex workers are always shown in mainstream narratives as voiceless bodies in the background. If you come to FYPM it’ll probably be the first time you’ve heard one TALK for an hour.

To me The ‘ethics of watching’ is to do with whether the woman you are watching has given CONSENT/ permission for you to watch her. Not about whether you think what she is doing is sleazy.

You could even say that Going to an actual strip club is less voyeuristic than some of the things you probably do every day, less voyeurístic than watching someone walk down the street, or scrolling through Instagram.

Stripclubs are places you go to watch a woman dance, but mostly, and increasingly, they are places men go to talk to someone. Long gone is the hay-day of rich bankers “making it rain” from their expense accounts. And here are the times of men looking for emotional respite and healing. Ask many sex workers and they’ll tell you that 90% of their job is talking.

It’s not a peep-show, it’s a highly social, interactive thing. It’s a two way interaction.

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