Sarah Jones explores the sex industry in Sell/ Buy/ Date

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.

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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.

Sarah
Sarah Jones: I believe in people theres nothing more beautiful on earth. Photo: Joan Marcus
What inspired Sell/ Buy/ Date ?

My interest grew out of meeting very young girls when I was teaching verse workshops on Rikers Island, girls who often were caught up in the commercial sexuality trade and had often been trafficked. And instead of being cared for they were being jailed and penalized. Those various kinds of experiences actually helped me think that this was something I wanted to do and then it only took the fortitude to let go of the fear that this topic wouldnt be palatable enough for people.

Why did you define it in an enlightened future that has moved beyond gender and racial discrimination ?

I had left one too may theater performances thinking: Wow, that was beautifully rendered, that was a beautiful piece of art, but I want to go curl up in my bed for a week. I feel so demoralized. So I wanted people to leave the theater somehow feeling buoyant even after thinking about these notions for a while. I try to play around with the idea that another world is possible.

What kind of research did you do ?

I wanted to see what my characters had find and experience what they had experienced up to the point of what I could manage. I went to Sweden. I was in Germany, Korea, India, Las Vegas, France, Ireland, Scotland, so many places. The Dominican Republican, that was important, theres a tourist region where I was approached all the time because it was assumed on the beach that I must be a worker. I would promptly let them know that I was American and then I would start interviewing the guys Canadian guys, French guys, German guys, all really excited to see me until they realized I was not available.

Has working on the piece induced you think differently about sexuality run ?

I stood in a red-light district window in Amsterdam and found out what that experience actually feels like. Perhaps when the world stops exploiting all workers then well be able to have a more sane and balanced dialogue about what engaging in sex acts and getting paid for that looks like. For me, for today, when I came out of that window, I felt like if I had every selection in the world to do anything that I wanted to do, that would be very low on the listing. It did not feel empowering to me.

Are we ever going to be in a place where we can have healthy, self-determining pathways to commodifying sexuality? Perhaps. It aint happening right now. Im still looking for the woman who says, yes, all other things being in place, I dont have to do anything to pay my bills, I would still want to do this for a living because its my calling.

And what do you hope audiences will do after they leave the present ?

Im a red-blooded American woman. Ive watched porn. Im no different from anyone else. So I think its about investigation and discovery for ourselves rather than preaching or soapboxes. Its about actually candidly look at our own opinions.

Ive started to live my life differently. I want to be careful about porn. Im not going to restrict anyone else for doing what theyre doing, but now I think about who is in this movie and what is her actual experience? Is she having to take so many drugs to get through its own experience that shes hurting herself? I dont know that for sure, but at least I think about it more carefully.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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