Aug. 22, 2012 - Issue #879: Is The Party Over?
Theatre company encourages expression of sexual desire
Everyone knows there's lots of sex at the Fringe. You can't open the festival guide without spotting an adult content warning. But one play in particular caught my eye this season, not because of the saucy title Dominatrix for Dummies, but because of the sub-heading Sex-Positive Theatre—With a Happy Ending. In my circles, the term "sex-positive" is common usage, but I had never heard of a sex-positive theatre company. I got in touch with Eleanor O'Brien, producer of this show and founder of Dance Naked Productions to find out what sex-positive theatre is.
"In the theatre, desire is often portrayed as the cause of someone's downfall, or an aspect of their foolishness ," she told me. "I felt like there were very few examples of desire going unpunished or unmocked."
I hadn't thought about that before, but it seems true. Even in plays, movies and TV shows where there is a lot of sex, the characters usually pay for their desire. They end up led astray or hurt by the person they want, making a fool of themselves, or losing something important to them. The message is that desire is dangerous.
Yet every day I hear stories from people who followed their desire and it led to rewarding sex, amazing new relationships, and profound self-discovery. If this is our lived experience with desire, why is it so often presented as exactly the opposite? Why are we so scared of our own desire? O'Brien wanted to know the same thing. "I wanted to see what happened if we held a mirror up to nature, as it were, and explored desire with positive consequences!"
She and her company created a series of shows called Inviting Desire. The goal of the shows is to invite and portray many aspects of sexual expressions and to encourage appreciation for all of them. They feature stories about lived experiences of desire. They have evolved to include more than just monologue, but also poems, music and even interactive demonstrations. "I want to make theatre about positive sexuality—where people feel free to embrace who they are and what they desire. I am an advocate of letting go of shame, of coming out of the closet with our stories, and sharing a part of ourselves many people feel must be kept hidden or private", says O'Brien. True to that theme, the company has begun to incorporate audience interaction in the productions, like erotic open mic and talk-back sessions. O'Brien doesn't just let her audience sit and observe, she calls them to experience. Even in Dominatrix for Dummies, audience participation is not just encouraged, it's demanded.
There's something innately liberating about this whole idea. While most of us have learned since childhood that desire is dangerous and loving ourselves is arrogant, when we let go and explore these things, we almost always find out exactly the opposite. We are told that we can only be validated sexually if someone else finds us desirable and yet the most desirable people are the ones who already believe they are sexy whether anyone else sees it or not. As it turns out this is what Dominatrix for Dummies is all about. It has very little to do with learning to be a domme. It has to do with learning to be yourself and finding the raw, authentic desire for that self. "You can't wait to be picked," says O'Brien. "You must choose youself."
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