The New Zealand sex industry is not something I claim to know a great deal about, and therefore found Paying for It to be an overwhelming but insightful glance into what sex workers routinely experience. The individuals in Paying for It tended to summarise sex work as being ‘tough, but rewarding’; an idea which to most of the audience may also apply to their own work, sex related or otherwise. This motif continues from the beginning to finale, with a central focus of the show being an emphasis of the sex industry as being part of everyday living.
Paying for It intricately balances humour and hostility. With stigma so often connected to the notion of sex work, it is refreshing to see engaging discussions of a topic that has the potential to cause great unease. The use of humour throughout the show seemed crucial in maintaining its appeal to the audience, as without it the underlying and emotional context of the stories may have failed to resonate with such conviction.
The harsh stage lighting assisted in creating an intimidating juxtaposition between the vulnerability of those on stage against the self-proclaimed “vulgarity” of the content. This left the speakers fully emotionally exposed, which reflected their exposure as workers in the sex industry. While the employment of humour was well used and needed, it is the emotional and often teary-eyed experiences of the speakers that grounds the show.
Hearing about the non-sexual aspects of the sex industry, including the relationships between the workers and their clients, were authentically moving and assisted in removing preconceptions of sex work as being solely “quick and dirty.” Such relationships challenged stereotypical worker/client relationships. Particularly compelling was the notion of sex surrogacy, and how a sex worker in this context relies on both the presence and (to some extent) limitation of emotion.
Paying for It seemed to have the ultimate intention of spreading awareness about the New Zealand sex industry in an attempt to normalize and remove the stigma surrounding it. In expanding my own understanding of sex work, this intention of the show was successful.
It is fascinating to see such an honest and raw depiction of emotion on stage, and the speakers of Paying for It certainly engaged in this style of performance. With issues ranging from body dysmorphia and abuse, Paying for It introduced a deepened level of thinking about the sex industry within New Zealand through which the personalized touch of each speaker clearly resonated with the audience. This immediate openness created a feeling of privacy and safety, in which the audience was comfortably free to react in a way that mirrored those expressed by the speakers.
Overall a fantastic portrayal of individuals dedicated to and passionate about their work, Paying for It can be viewed later this month in second show held on February 24th at Ivy Bar, 49 Cuba St, Te Aro, Wellington.