By Ryan Good
Ménage is the story of sex workers in Edinburgh and London. It is a play about their personal lives and their professional lives.
Based on interviews with writer Ryan Good, this visceral, honest piece of verbatim theatre aims to redefine how audiences think of sex workers and their work.
“I don't get a lot of couples in here”
The play will take place in a flat near to the Underbelly and will play to no more than two people at a time. Different actresses and actors will play the role of the sex worker, making the show a unique experience for every audience member.
Underbelly, George Sq
Aug 6-16,19-30 - 15:00, 15:40, 16:20, 17:00, 17:40
What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
I began with an idea in the form of a location. While performing at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013, I would take a short-cut through a damp dark alley and pass a place called Sauna No. 9, which had an entrance that looked like a fabulous stage set to me. I went in and talked to the people working there and decided I wanted to do a show about these people that was staged in that sauna.
But when I returned to pursue that further in Dec 2014, I discovered that this sauna and nearly all the other places of it’s nature had been closed by Police Scotland, putting the women who worked there at a new level of risk. At that moment, the piece became much more critical to do immediately.
Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
This piece is in a lot of ways a direct response to the police crackdowns in Edinburgh (and secondarily in London, Australia, Norway, and Canada). It was motivated by events taking place in Edinburgh right now, so there was really no other place this piece could première. Also, I wanted to challenge a fringe audience to do something a bit different (like a lot of exciting work happening this year). I think the current day’s audiences crave interaction, and the fringe audience is the most risk-taking and open in the entire world.
What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
They will see and feel through physical experience the environment of a sex worker’s home/office. There are things for them to find in the set, things for them to notice and discover. The attentive, brave audience member will get a lot more out of this experience.
The Dramaturgy Questions
How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
I think there is a non-traditional sense of dramaturgy that is very present in this piece. The interviews done by myself and journalist Michaela Carroll were the first stage. But as the project has grown, I have used guidance from my actors, producer, and associate director to shape the script.
Because the words are not written by me (all the text is quoted directly from the interviews), assembling these pieces was more collaborative than a traditional script might typically be.
Additionally, wading through research on the topic has been a large part of the process for all involved as this is a topic that is highly divisive and one that is often covered with large amounts of bias by the media.
What particular traditions and influences would you acknowledge on your work - have any particular artists, or genres inspired you and do you see yourself within their tradition?
Too many to name probably. Bryony Kimmings is an artist whose courage and inventiveness inspire me every year. Additionally the American theatre company the Neo-Futurists (who I was a member of for 10 years) influence me greatly in that their work is rooted in “non-illusory” theatre - in which there is no pretending to be someone else or being somewhere else while on-stage.
I’ve applied that in my directing approach to the text (which is in this show interview based and therefore rooted in real experiences) and in tasks, not asking the performers to create extra “character” beyond the voices in the text. And I think I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Punchdrunk, who have put immersive theatre at the forefront of things in London and New York over the last 5+ years.
Some of my non-theatre inspirations for this piece are the sexual energy of 1920s hot jazz, the intense personal connection found in Marina Abramovic (particularly The Artist Is Present), the laughter through tears of Shostakovich’s string quartets and 15th symphony, and the physical presence of burlesque great Dita Von Teese.
Do you have a particular process of making that you could describe - where it begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process?
This process began with interviews. During that time, we also reached out to sex worker support organizations such as the Edinburgh based group Scot-PEP and to the authorities in the UK. Then, my producer and I took a pass at putting the puzzle together to form a script.
A lot of conversation about what these stories do in terms of creating a character took place early on. Then once we got to the rehearsal room, the performers made me hear the text differently and helped cohere the disparate sections into a greater whole. My associate director is now focusing on specific acting work around breath, voice, and physicality. In a little over a week, we will get into the space and hopefully bring it all together.
What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
In this particular piece, I think the audience plays a large role in the experience and the dynamic of the piece. I think preconceived notions and knowledge of sex work (or lack thereof) will make one audience member’s experience of the character very different from the experience of another audience member.
But, It’s important to me that I do not take a political stance with this piece. I’m portraying a person in a unique job. How the audience feels about that person and that job is the core of what this piece is about.
Ménage is an incredibly timely show. The merger of Scotland’s eight police forces into Police Scotland has seen the “House Rules” Glasgow style policing of Chief Constable Sir Stephen House applied to Edinburgh’s saunas, with the city no longer turning a blind eye to the industry.
The effects of this, as a recent report for the City of Edinburgh Council’s Health and Social Committee made clear, have been damaging.
Saunas no longer stock condoms, they can be used by police as evidence of sex work, and rates of infection are up, and the number of workers engaging with NHS services are down - for the first time in eight years.
“There is no evidence that the number of women selling sex in Lothian has reduced, but they are not attending for support from NHS Lothian in the same volumes as in previous years” the report says.
It continues, “Anecdotally, we hear of women now selling sex in other venues, such as lap-dancing bars, and more women are informing us that they are working from flats and advertising on the internet.”
Good aims to give the sex workers a voice and to make a story that humanizes, softens, and makes more complex the audience’s view of the profession.
Good is an actor, writer, and director based in San Francisco and New York City. Previous solo shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe include Interpretive Dances to My Diary (72% non-fiction) at the Gilded Balloon, and Sex With Animals at the Underbelly.
Ryan was an ensemble member of the Fringe First Winning Neo-Futurists, whose ever changing show Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind played to sold out audiences in 2014. His short film And... A Fragmented Biography was premiered at Coney Island Film Festival. This year Good will also be premiering his new solo show COSMOnaut also at the Underbelly.