Tony Award-winning playwright and performer Sarah Jones (Bridge & Tunnel) returns to the New York stage as a dazzling medley of characters in Sell/Buy/Date, an exuberant new show, directed by Drama Desk Award winner Carolyn Cantor (Fly By Night), inspired by the real-life experiences of people affected by the sex industry.
Brimming with Jones’ masterful, multicultural characterizations, Sell/Buy/Date presents an honest, moving and even humorous look at a complex and fascinating subject, all while preserving the full humanity of voices seldom heard in the theater.
We caught up with the talented actress to learn more about her new show, and why this important topic needed to be heard and seen on the stage.
Bossip: Your new play is inspired by the real-life experiences of people affected by the sex industry, why take on this topic and theme?
Sarah Jones: Growing up, I remember noticing how much we treat sex as taboo and dirty, something “nice girls” couldn’t really talk about. Yet boys could be boys, with sex as a sign of their manhood, and never be considered sluts. Then, as I got older I saw how often women involved in the sex trade were shamed, punished and criminalized, even when they had been forced into it by terrible circumstances.
Bossip: In what ways did you prepare for your role? Did you talk with sex workers, interview them, or did you spend time getting involved in their world by going undercover?
Sarah Jones: Lots of ways–starting with back when I was teaching poetry workshops to young girls of color in the high school on Rikers Island in NYC, and I realized how many of them were accused of “soliciting” or prostitution. But most of them were so young, any sex act with them should have been considered rape. So, I saw the double standards at play and I wanted to learn more. For Sell/Buy/Date I interviewed many girls and women from around the country and the world, from India to Korea to Sweden — the issue of treating girls and women terribly in the sex trade, whether we call it commercial sexual exploitation or sex work, is one thing we all have in common.
Bossip: What important lessons or insights did you learn about those in the sex industry? Who were the people most affected by the sex industry, i.e., families, children, women, or any specific ethnic or racial group?
Sarah Jones: Whoever is already most vulnerable in general in any society–for example, in America if the girl is poor, of color, a trans-person–these are the people over-represented in the sex trade. And, because of a culture that has portrayed prostitution as harmless, (except to demean the prostituted people themselves) many of us look away instead of thinking of these women and girls as our sisters and daughters, valuable members of our communities. And, we have barely begun to talk about whether women can choose sex work in an empowered way–especially when women in general still don’t have full equality.
Bossip: What do you want viewers to take away from this play, and about the sex industry?
Sarah Jones: That sex and empowerment and exploitation are all tied in together and are much more a part of our daily lives and culture than we realize or talk about openly in healthy ways. If we are willing to look at it together through a creative conversation that goes deeper and also maintains a sense of humor and hope, we can make sure we are all healthier and more empowered around our sexuality.
Bossip: Why do think society still is afraid to talk openly about sex, and the sex industry?
Sarah Jones: I remember noticing in every buddy cop or action movie I ever watched, the wise-cracking black and Latinx prostitutes were a staple–but always in a dehumanized way. And, messages about women as hoes and objects, whether from Hip Hop artists or White politicians “p***y grabbing”, they’re everywhere. If we don’t open up about them, it keeps us in fear, which in some ways benefits the culture of alienation that we see polarizing the country today. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but I recognize divide and conquer when I see it. Talking about sex and the sex industry is connected to talking about women’s equality, and as we know, some people don’t want to see that yet in our country.
Sell/Buy/Date is currently Off-Broadway and runs until Saturday, December 3rd. Tickets are on sale by calling CityTix at 212-581-1212, online by visiting www.nycitycenter.org, or by visiting the New York City Center box office (131 West 55th Street).