Publié par Laura Beeston
“Shame is a lie someone told you about yourself.”
Getting to the bottom of this lie is at the crux of this year’s headlining bill Les Demimondes, whose Operation Snatch played at Studio 303 March 30 to April 1.
Featuring a veteran Edgy troupe via Toronto consisting of syndicated Montreal Mirror sex columnist Alexandra Tigchelaar (Sasha Van Bon Bon), Cat Nimmo (Kitty Neptune) Jesse Dell and Andrya Duff, their evolved work (described as ‘Dada-ist cabaret’) is all about the complex relationship and history sex workers have with art, media and law. And oh, did these women ever have a story to tell about whores. Smart, satirical and full of moxie, the multi-media performance engages video art and dance where whores tell their own narratives — with Prostitution Herself delivering monologues that cut to the heart of the way their stories have been culturally misappropriated and misrepresented over the last 3,000 years of whore-hating. She asks us to consider, “Were these women fallen or were they pushed?”
ART: “A whore, wrapped in an actress, wrapped in a whore; a metawhore.”
Exploring nuances between so-called “high” and “low” art, the first act of Operation Snatch sets a tone with Prostitution Herself handily taking down 20th century critic, satirist, and enemy of whores Dorothy Parker in her first monologue. See, Parker once purported that “you can lead a whore to culture but you cannot make her think,” while Le Demimondes assert that, in fact, whores are culture. Perching her pelvis atop a bed with red satin sheets, Prostitution Herself mimes a mounted fucking gesture. “Culture,” she argues, thrusting, “is on top of us all the time.” Punctuating her point throughout, Operation Snatch explores and re-imagines a variety of prostitution-based pop culture from the ages. La Travaiata, The Police’s infamous “Roxanne,” 1971 hooker-slasher film Klute, Toddlers and Tiaras, and especially the iconic images of Pretty Woman, are whipped down to size by deconstructive attention to their hollow mainstream whore narratives.
Besides, we’re asked, who profits from the art work of sex work? What is a muse worth on canvas and in person? What are the bullshit themes in stories we hear about whores all the time and why are they forever being regurgitated? The Message is the Media “I have never felt vulnerable with a client like I do with the media,” declared Tigchelaar after the curtain came down and the artists spoke at an informal Q&A with Edgy Artistic Director Miriam Ginestier. Tigchelaar lamented she is exhausted of “having morality conversations” with reporters and needing to forever push beyond the religious fundamentalism bent in the kinds of questions she’s asked as both a sex worker and artist. “We’re trying to strike a different chord about sex work,” she tells us. “Sex is a part of culture as well, but sex workers have no privilege. The representations out there are not made by sex workers. But we see, and want to comment on it, too. […] But the biggest betrayal I have ever had was by the media.” Tigchelaar’s desire for ‘real talk’ in whore reportage, specifically the way their stories are told and who are telling them, found a prominent place onstage. Snatch turns the tables on the media-makers who make working girls feel “constantly interrogated” about their choices of work and what myths are perpetuated through this medium. Calling out bad journalism from the sensationalist exposé’s of eras bygone right up to a contemporary Toronto blogger notorious for outing and shaming sex workers, Opearation Snatch takes aim at the way whores are marginalized and criminalized in the cultural production of ‘news.’ Fear is the mother of morality – Nietzsche
While this play cackles along, tight-trope-walking all you thought you knew about the work and lives of whores with a lively array of performance and dance, perhaps what is the more compelling than hilarious wit is the feeling that you’re finally hearing a different voice explain what it is to do the oldest profession in history yet receive none of the cultural kudos. “I enjoy my job. There’s validity in my work,” says Nimmo during a monologue, radiant in a white power suit as she looks each audience member directly in the eye. “Humans need intimacy, spaces to work through the problems with monogamy and the stifling ideas we have about our partnerships.” Sharing what she’s learned about affection, tolerance, and the changing needs and desires between people, Nimmo spoke to her work as an escort as “the most enriching job I’ve ever had.” Admitting she unabashedly enjoys what she does. And we can tell. It’s really beautiful.
The realness of the women onstage is undoubtedly the best part about this performance. Their downright heart and humanity cuts through whatever preconceived notions out there we might have believed, but can’t anymore. And, under the red lights, I couldn’t help but feel like something timeless was liberated in the studio those nights.
If shame has pursued whores forever, it is a play like this that will put an end to it.
(Text by “Lois Lane”)
Montreal Gazette Need Writer
MONTREAL – Studio 303’s two-week Edgy Women Festival returns for a 19th year on Thursday with more appeals for sexual tolerance and freedom.
Leading the charge is a cabaret-style show, Les Demimondes, by Toronto’s Operation Snatch (formerly The Scandelles), founded by former Montrealer Alexandra Tigchelaar. As Sasha, she’s written a weekly sex-advice column for many years, performed as stripper Sasha Van Bon Bon, and laboured as a sex worker.
When defending women’s rights to work in the sex trade without criminal harassment or social stigma, her voice rises passionately.
“Honesty is revolutionary when it comes to sexuality,” she said in a telephone interview from Toronto. “Sex workers are so rarely allowed to tell their own truth. Our stories are told by other people, often through the filter of shame and suspicion. Other people have more power to tell our stories than we do, like the media and the police. I can tell people about my experience as a sex worker and how I, as an activist, feel about these representations in our culture.”
In her show, Tigchelaar, in white wig and period costume, plays a 3,000-year-old prostitute who serves as mistress of ceremonies. A witty raconteur, she acts with her body, too, in ways that ensure that only those 18 and over are allowed to attend (revealing details would spoil the surprise).
“She’s fluid, sly, sexual, kind of bawdy,” Tigchelaar said. “Is she telling the truth? Maybe not. An overarching know-it-all who’s just dirty and pokes at you to look at things. But also very emotionally generous.”
The show’s dancers, Cat Nimmo, Andrya Duff and Jesse Dell, perform numbers designed to illustrate the sex workers’ plight. A tango’s characteristic push-pull movement shows “the support that sex workers on the street give one another, and the competition and violence that erupts because of the strain and stress of work under such conditions.” Another dance in military camouflage symbolizes “the weight of anonymity and shame that a lot of sex workers go through and the manoeuvring to do their work.”
The group’s show in Toronto last weekend, Tigchelaar said, attracted “sex workers, their clients and queer people.” In other words, those sympathetic to the show’s messages. But not everyone who watches Operation Snatch is enthralled.
“People walk out – for certain. People don’t want to hear certain things. I can understand that. I don’t want to sit in a sermon and hear the reverend speak about homophobia.”
Tigchelaar’s French equivalent could well be Gaëlle Bourges, a classically trained dancer and literature student who stripped for three years in a raunchy left-bank Paris “théâtre érotique” along with Alice Roland and Marianne Chargois. In Montreal, the three perform Je baise les yeux, a forum in which each stripper is “interviewed” by a “moderator,” Gaspard Delanoë.
“Unlike North America, in Europe it’s not often that people discuss subjects that many disdain or conceal” explained Bourges by telephone from Nice, where she was recovering from the flu. “Often men won’t tell their wives that they went to strip clubs.”
Confronting one’s own sexual prejudices can lead to attitude changes, said Bourges, relating a story from her own experience. She’d begun stripping at 39 – old by strippers’ standards – and a young man who saw her was horrified.
“I made him think of his mother doing a striptease. A nightmare. But later he wrote me a long letter explaining how much he admired me. He thought it was beautiful. A complete reversal. He started out hating something and then … ”
Bourges’s act in Paris included intimate looks at every part of her anatomy.
“It showed sex acts, so it was more ‘pornographic’ than erotic. I found it more difficult to do at the time, but more interesting because it opened up possibilities of dance all the way to the genitals. I was interested in looking at my body without the ‘hierarchy’ that the genitals are somehow sacred and should not be seen. I found desanctifying (the body) quite healthy.”
Je baise les yeux is less explicit.
“Each woman does a strip number, but they go a little against expectations. A conference on striptease already undermines any erotic aspect. I explain, for example, how I masturbate, and the explanation undermines any eroticism. People who come expecting something ‘woo-hoo!’ will be disappointed.”
Far less sexually provocative are two other festival shows, SPIN, by Toronto artist Evalyn Parry, who turns a bicycle into a musical instrument, and In Succube, featuring contortionist Andréane Leclerc and actress/singer Holly Gauthier-Frankel.