WHORE team was invited to Toi Whakaari to speak about our play, amongst other guests including ‘Rhubarb Rouge’ (Ricky Beirao) who performs in ‘Lashings Of Whipped Cream’ at BATS Theatre also. The film ‘The Last Saint’ screened in Wellington on 25 September, written/directed by Rene Naufahu. Some of the cast: Beulah Koale & Sophia Huybens spoke about their journey for this “gritty, raw and confrontational urban crime drama” surrounding methamphetamine use and supply. Can’t wait to see it!
Guest Blogger: Elise Hoggard
Devised and directed by Melissa herself, the Charlatan Clinic’s latest project “Whore” is a refreshing collection of six monologues, based on street sex workers in New Zealand. Tucked away at the end of Auckland’s notorious K-Road is Lifewise Merge café, which up until November 2010, was a soup kitchen. This is where the “Whore” journey begins. Offered a “do I look like a whore?” badge and paper cup of minestrone soup, I felt at home instantly- warmth, stability and respect radiating from the Lifewise staff; a true testament to their dedication to the “Whore” cause.
Seated on wooden pews, the audience is intimate, yet tis this intimacy that makes the “Whore” experience that much more impacting. Harrowing music plays as we take our seat- two half naked live performers roaming through the audience, offering their bodies in exchange for cash, creating an awkward yet apt foreshadowing of what is to follow.
Over the next hour we meet our six characters; rent boy, illegal migrant, refugee, married woman, underage street worker and transgender. Played by three actors with a simple change of furniture, the small space the cast inhabits is transformed accordingly. Over the course of the production there is a roller coaster of emotion, the actor’s honesty apparent through every sigh, twitch of the jaw and rattle in their voice. It was these subtleties that made the play what is was. “Whore” was believable as hell; I wasn’t sitting in a café watching theatre, I was sitting in on a support group at Lifewise. There was sorrow, there were nerves- even laughter, but more than anything, there was understanding.
“The only difference between you and I- is I have sex and get paid cold cash”; a powerful piece of prose from the ‘Married Worker’. Who are we to judge street workers on their vocation when we are marginalized everyday, just in different ways? This production is not here to expose unknown truths of prostitution. It is here to normalize and de-stigmatize what you might believe about sex work. This production is to challenge one to think more actively about what we see everyday on K-Road and how we as a society can create more opportunities for those struggling. It’s here to raise awareness on an issue, which is damaging and dangerous. It’s a cry for help and a scream for change.
Do you still think sex work is a choice?
After working with Melissa on “pURe” as “Anais” in 2012 , I jumped at the chance to work with Melissa again. “pURe” was an incredible experience. I knew “Whore” would be the same.
Playing a Ukrainian refugee and a married woman ‘sex worker’ presents many challenges, all of which I am throwing myself into, with gusto. I actually started research for this back in 2011, when I arrived in NZ not knowing that prostitution is legal here. I was fascinated, so read forums and policies surrounding the issue. Fast forward two years later and (actually now) cast as two sex workers, I have investigated further! Research for my Ukrainian character has sent me in the direction of a Ukrainian accent coach, in order to fully understand where my character is coming from culturally, historically and socially. My accent needs to be spoken with truth and authenticity from within. “Married Woman” is proving equally challenging (as the life she leads is incredibly different from my own); as I haven’t dealt with violence, discrimination or psychological problems that she experiences daily. I have been reading and chatting to a lot of people (who are victims) about violence, drugs and discrimination and the effect it has on their lives. I hope to expose their reality – with truth. Protected by the ‘Prostitution Reform Act 2003’, yet unprotected on the street. I have realised that ‘sex work is work’.
If you know me, you maybe surprised that I am involved in this project. Why? I’m a Martial artist and actor who is usually in Action films. I’m portraying two sex workers in’Whore’. One is a ‘Rent Boy’ who has sex with men for money, and the other is ‘Transgender’ who loves sex with men. The characters (I find) are very interesting and EXCITING. My research and preparation for these two fine, well written characters involve finding my raw, dark and sexual side. Thank goodness we have the internet to explore this subject matter. I usually say ‘no’ to these kind of roles but hey: This is directed and written by Melissa Fergusson. She’s a good director and tremendous writer who can bring out the raw truth in front of you. I love that. I won’t give you too many details of my preparation, but I am still learning how to walk in high heels. It’s tricky. My research tells me about the adversity Transgender’s go through and how sex workers are heavily judged in society, “its easy to judge a book by its cover”? This play will be unforgettable.
I always thought if I had the opportunity to play a sex worker one day, I would definitely do it! I know that as an actor it would be an extremely interesting and challenging character to play, to relate to and to pull it off. “Whore” is far from the “Pretty Woman” characters I had in mind at first.
Both my characters ( illegal migrant and underage sex worker) are based on real people’s stories and the challenge being is to understand them, their background, what reasons led them to sell their bodies and how they act on a day-to-day basis. I find it difficult to deal with themes (for my underage sex worker character) such as drugs, poverty, violence and chaotic dysfunction. I realise through reading and watching documentaries how the family environment and poverty can lead young women to work on the street. I can not stand violence. It is ugly and I find it heartbreaking to imagine that my characters have dealt with it. Then there is drugs – another rough and disturbing topic. It is a vicious circle: you need drugs to work, and you need to work to pay for your habit. Both my characters experience loneliness and fear (but are not victims) and I love that about them. It is a very fascinating journey I am taking with Melissa Fergusson and the “Whore” team to bring my characters to life. Working on this controversial project is definitely an eye and heart opener.