The Sex Worker’s Opera is a piece of theatre created, directed and performed by 50% sex workers and 50% allies. We at TheatreBubble caught up with co-director Siobhan Knox to find out more about the process and motivations behind the piece.
Why did you decide to create the Sex Worker’s Opera?
‘The Sex Worker’s Opera is a show written, directed and performed by 50% sex workers and 50% allies – and we don’t reveal who is who. The show was devised from over 60 true stores collected from 17 countries around the world and features a diversity of mediums from classical arias, to hip-hop, to poetry and multimedia work. The project exists because sex workers are left out of public discourse around their work. There is an expectation that sex workers are there to be saved or to be spoken for. We’re asking our audience to listen to sex workers for a change.’
Is there a particular reason you decided to label it as an opera?
‘Opera, and in fact the media in general, has a history of featuring sex workers as either glamorous or tragic figures but these stories are very one sided, unrealistic and mostly written by white old men! We wanted to reclaim the opera so that sex workers could tell their own stories on their own terms.’
What are the particular stereotypes you want to confront within the piece?
The show has a lot of fun shattering every Hollywood cliche you can imagine. We also tackle the misconceptions that you can’t be a sex worker and a feminist, that sex workers need saving and that sex workers can’t have relationships. One of the weirdest misconceptions we found is that people assume that sex workers can’t sing! Let me tell you, yes they can.
The misrepresentation of sex workers in the media is de-humanising and a causes stigma. We believe that art has a moral responsibility to represent people in their own words and on their own terms. By amplifying the voices of sex workers we are fighting back against that stigma by showing that sex workers are human like everyone else.’
How did you go about creating such a wonderful multi-media piece of work?
‘For the first show we put a call out to escort agencies, cam websites and sex workers forums. There are some wonderful organisations out there like the English Collective of Prostitutes, Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement and East London Strippers Collective who also helped spread the word for us. We found a phenomenally talented cast of international performers. There is a lot of crossover between sex work and performance.
We are influenced by the theatre of the oppressed, which allows people to act out their own oppression in order to find ways to escape it. We work a lot with improvisations and deep group bonding. It’s really important to build a sense of trust within the team as we deal with some difficulties stories, some of which are personal to the group.’
Were there any particular difficulties in creating the piece?
‘When we started the project three years ago we had no idea how big it would become. The first show was only half an hour long and was made in three days. From there the project has grown into a full two hour opera. That growth has been challenging to navigate as public attention has increased but it’s also been hugely rewarding. One of our biggest challenges has always been funding – we are a massive group! And we are so happy that now we have Arts Council funding we are able to pay our performers as artists which means that our project can be can be more inclusive and people can be involved without having to worry about paying rent for example.
We are so excited that we get to take the show on tour and perform it to entirely new audiences every night.’
What are the main reasons audiences should come and experience the show?
‘The Sex Worker’s Opera is bold, provocative and unlike anything else you’ll see on stage this year. These stories aren’t being told anywhere else so if you’ve ever wondered what sex worker’s lives are really like this is the show for you. And it’s incredibly funny! People are always telling us that the show is much funnier then they expected. This is the last time the show will be performed in the UK so don’t miss out.’
The Sex Workers Opera opens at The Mumford Theatre in Cambridge on 4th November before heading to Theatre Delicatessen from 9th – 11th November, Tropicana in Weston-super-Mare from 16th – 18th November. It will then run at London’s Ovalhouse from 22nd November – 2nd December 2017.