Whore-ta-culture
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“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 ofPretty 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 »)

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