SEX WORKERS' OPERA
Challenging our preconceptions about the sex industry, in this musical play the sex workers share their personal stories and experiences through music and performance, which spans hip-hop, jazz, poetry and spoken word, in what amounts to a powerful case against the criminalisation of their trade.
We witness escorts, pole-dancers, strippers and street walkers come together to reveal both distressing and amusing stories. We are told about generous clients and tiresome clients; about giving clients with disabilities ‘the physical, sensual and loving attention that they crave’; about abusive partners in relationships and the escapism of sex work. There are tales of being disempowered by the law, but empowered by the work. We hear stories about fulfilment, independence and personal freedom.
The opera also examines the conventions around power and interventions - exemplified in the scene that re-enacted the Soho brothel raids where sex workers were dragged into the street to be exposed by the press on the premise of being 'saved' from trafficking and coercion. 'Save us from our ''saviours''’, they shouted. 'We will not disappear'.
While touching on the vast diversity of sex workers' experiences - from the feminist mother struggling to accept her daughter's career choice, to the Pro-Domme’s jazz solo where she sings about how much satisfaction she gets out of her work - there is no doubt that despite our differences, we all share the same fundamental rights. They want to be recognised as humans, like everybody else.
‘I choose to be me and I choose to be free’ - this resounding statement, echoing the feelings & solidarity of many sex workers around the world, hushed the room into silence.
Strong Latino references run through the heart of the show, as the (many) native Spanish speakers on stage deliver hot blooded outbursts, good-humoured exchanges and song in Spanish. The public gently absorbs the language as the stories move swiftly from the poignant to the hilarious, from the personal to the political (and often Latino-tinged).
A story of an Argentinian street-worker who found herself being paid to give marriage guidance counselling instead of sex is both endearing and hilarious, as the two characters continually break into Spanish, deliberately ‘forgetting’ to speak English - and thus being forced to repeat the whole scene.
It is impossible to overlook the evident bond between all the cast members - reinforced at the end of the show when they all sit together in a 'circle of trust' offering each other support & advice - which strengthens the importance of sex workers’ rights as a modern-day issue.
Using a diversity of mediums, Co-directors Alex Etchart and Siobhan Knox give these marginalised voices a platform to challenge stereotypes in a brilliant international multimedia and cross-genre production. Both wildly funny and overwhelmingly tragic, we follow the realities of the sex workers in their fight to be heard. ‘Listen to us’ they sang in unison - and we listened.
The production builds a bridge between one of the most marginalised professions and the highbrow traditions of the opera. The characters use their voices to break down stereotypes and fight for acceptance, by exposing the audience to this hidden, misrepresented and demonised world. They promote a different side of sex work, shattering the assumption that all there is to this industry is violence, poverty and deprivation. This transpires right through to the set design, where a giant red and golden stiletto shoe serves as the sex workers’ flag, in their fight for the right to choose their own path.
The Sex Workers Opera is currently running at the The Pleasance Theatre, 17th – 29th May 2016