“Some People Won’t Want It”: Cameryn Moore on Telling Sex Work Stories Onstage

by Fusionista on February 14, 2013 · 1 comment

in Interviews, This Time, It's Personal


Photo by Caleb Cole

Cameryn Moore is an award-winning playwright/performer, sex activist and educator, and, oh yeah, a phone sex operator. Her work in theater, literature, and activism/advocacy is both a challenge and invitation to adventurous audiences everywhere. She is the creator and performer of a trilogy of sex- and kink-positive solo shows: “Phone Whore “(2010), “slut (r)evolution” (2011), and “for | play “(2012). These shows have toured to 34 cities around North America so far. She is premiering her next solo show in Montréal in April 2013, and working up a fifth show for touring in 2014. Her screen adaptation of Phone Whore is scheduled for release in July 2013.

In addition to her work in solo theater and film, Cameryn is the creator and producer of Smut Slam (“where erotica and storytelling collide”), a first-person, real-life sex-story open mic that is spreading across the US and Canada like a puddle of cum on a cheap mattress. She writes a weekly column for the Charlebois Post, an online Canadian theater magazine, and frequently posts NSFW status updates to Facebook.

What are some things to think about as a potential stage performer?

Don’t go onstage if you’re not comfortable there. Maybe you’re more comfortable writing and having someone else perform it, although I like to see everyone speaking with their own voice. Think about whether you want to be a solo performer or work with a cast. If you want to make it good, you have to write and rewrite, rehearse, memorize. Join a community writer’s group, take community theatre lessons, learn from fundraising experts about where you can find money. Basically, get as much help as you can, as soon as you can.

Alternative topics often need alternative performance spaces. Women’s bookstores, GLBT community centres, back rooms at bars, galleries: be creative! Try to take pieces out of the material you’re doing and tailor them to different audiences. Like if your show isn’t a comedy as a whole but it has funny parts, do the funny parts at comedy open-mics, or do the more poetic parts at poetry readings.

Also, be aware that people can and will Google you…what do you want them to find? Decide if you want to use your real name on your performance material, because it will link your work in the sex industry to your “real world”. Especially if you want to use Facebook to promote shows and events; remember, literally everybody’s grandmother is on there now! Making yourself look as professional as possible will help, too: get good photos, a good title for the show. Have a good write-up and synopsis that you can give to promoters.

It takes a couple of years to build momentum on anything. If you want this to be your work, it’ll take time. Know your limitations and your strengths. Remember: it’s not just about setting yourself up as a performer, but trying and being willing to fail, developing a thick skin about tearing your heart out and showing it to people, because that’s what performance is. If it’s real, honest stuff, you’re taking what’s inside you and showing it to the world. That’s scary.

How do you know something will work for performance?

You don’t. Schedule a preview show of the finished work to try it out in front of an audience. Get feedback: do a workshop reading or go to conventions and offer a performance, then hand out feedback forms. It’s important to get feedback from outsiders, from people who aren’t your friends. Sometimes, if you can get sponsorship or a residency, they can set up previews and workshop readings for you.

What are some pitfalls in bringing potentially inflammatory material to mainstream audiences?

It’s important to be honest with people about exactly the kind of material you’re doing. My show Phone Whore has funny parts, but it gets progressively more disturbing. I profile four different calls, and it starts with a pretty straightforward blow-job guy and ends with some really difficult material. When I did it at Zoofest in Montreal in 2012, they had the wrong advertising in their program. It’d been written by someone who had never seen the show and didn’t know anything about it, and they were billing it as a comedy show. I had a bunch of people walk out, and some of them contacted me on Facebook after and asked for their money back. It’s really important to avoid pulling a bait-and-switch, because then you lose credibility as a performer—and do you really want people in your show who think they’re going to see The Sound of Music? It covers your ass and the ass of the producers.

You will face rejection if you’re doing honest material.  Consider the social impact of what you’re trying to say. The truth is, some people won’t want it. They’ll be offended.

Photo by Caleb Cole

Photo by Caleb Cole

What do you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?

This sounds bad, but…I wish someone had told me how harsh the outside world is. I live in a bubble: my network is sex positive, fat positive, artist positive, kink positive. When I first started doing phone sex, my roommate at the time was horrible about it and it was a real shock. It’s the same with performance! Being an articulate, powerful woman is valued within the bubble, but when you’re doing performance, you’re deliberately stepping into the outside world. Reviewers can be awful. People make personal attacks, not just on the show, but on your appearance, the nature of sex work, your voice, your face, everything. Try to get yourself some self-care; take it back to your community if you’re having a bad day, because the world can be very unkind, especially to women, especially to marginalized women.

On the other hand, the problem with being in a bubble is that you don’t get legitimate criticism of your work. You might be getting too much unquestioning support. Don’t rely on the shock value of being a sex worker to sell your piece; make good art, don’t be lazy. Sex work isn’t seen in theatre that often, so it can be very powerful, raw, and unique, especially narratives that are outside the socially accepted ideals of who you are and what you do. It’s like, that fantasy of the sex worker falling in love with her client and being “saved;” it’s easy to tap into, because it’s a social norm, that the sex worker wants to be saved and the love of her client can save her. Be aware of the stereotypes people will have about you and what they might be thinking about your work, just because you’re a sex worker. They may not know how to deal with what you’re saying.

The other side of that is that people will make assumptions about what you’re available for. Because of the nature of your work and your background as a sex worker, you might get some skeezy attention. Don’t worry too much, just be aware of the potential for unfortunate interactions.

You’re going to be a poster child whether you want to be or not, so be prepared. People will think of you as representative: they’re going to see your show about camgirls and think “all camgirls are like that.” Other sex workers might resent you; I’ve been accused of dilettantism, of just doing phone sex for research purposes. I’ve also had other sex workers tell me I’m doing the industry a disservice or not representing everybody fairly. I’m not trying to represent everybody! I’m telling my own perspective, my own point of view. If they want to share theirs, they should make a show and say it themselves. So anyone who’s reading this that isn’t making a performance piece and you hear from someone who is, be supportive. Please, I’m begging you.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

proserpine February 21, 2013 at 8:14 pm

Hell yes!


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