Travelling through brothels, strip clubs and red-light districts around the world, the musician channels the others experiences into a new show about sexuality work
For Sell/ Buy/ Date, her first new show in more than a decade, the Tony-winning playwright and performer Sarah Jones went to strip clubs and bordello, to a home for former Korean comfort women and an open-air brothel in India. She stood in a window in the red-light district of Amsterdam and fended off johns on a Dominican beach.
Sell/ Buy/ Date is an exploration of commercial sexuality work with a sci-fi twisting. It asks audiences in an imagined future to access their bio-empathetic resonant technology modules and experience the stories of sexuality workers and customers from our own hour and beyond. The piece never absence for humor and verve even as it creates troubling questions of agency, longing and consumerism.
With her multiracial, multiethnic background, Jones has a unique ability to engage with a staggering array of people( young and old, males and, conservative and liberal, white and non-white) and to bring them to the stage in performances that are mixtures of interview and invention, what she calls, doing a vertical plunge into another persons experience. Bridge& Tunnel, her award-winning 2006 solo present, being developed by Meryl Streep and centered on immigrant experience, is her best known work.
Part mimic, part shaman, she excels in psychic frequency hopping and even in the course of an hour-long phone call will summon half a dozen characters voices to show her arguments.
How did you come to this style of multi-character run ?
Ive come to see it as the natural trajectory of someone who grows up in a multicultural household. Many of the characters are inspired by the people who sat around my Thanksgiving table. They were black and white and from the Caribbean and from Long Island and Catholic and Jewish. That was a marinade for me.
I wasnt a conventional theater child. I didnt develop. I didnt go to theater school, I didnt learn playwriting in a conventional way. I guessed I wanted to be a lawyer. But I got bit by the performance glitch of spoken word poetry and hip-hop. And then I found that the characters were sort of leaking out of me, they were coming to the fore of their own volition, they were demanding to be heard.
Do you have empathy for all your characters ?
I empathize with each of them. I do not condone what they did, I may even hate what they did, but I do not hate them. You look at every despot you are able to think of, presidential candidates included. Theres a tale of being raised into intolerance, being raised into misogyny, being raised with a particular way of considering the world. Until person intervenes and changes that, we dont change.
So if you sat with Donald Trump for a while, you would find empathy for him ?
I dont believe Donald Trump is the devil incarnate. But I believe he is a deeply, deeply disturbed person who needs healing. I truly believe that with 5 years of serious therapy, he could re-access his humanity, but thats very far away from where he is right now.
Is there something spiritual about what you do ?
Im leery of the S-word. When we hear spiritual I think we hear religious. If I have a religion I am a devout orthodox New York jaywalker. Without getting into the really confusing questions about what I believe in, I know I believe in people. When people are authentically themselves and at their best, theres nothing more beautiful to me on earth.