Is Porn Empowering or Degrading for Women?
By ALLISON CONSIDINE
Tuesday, February 12, 2019  •  
Tue Feb 12, 2019  •  
Off-Off Broadway  •   0 comments Share This
"We are all part of this cultural shame around the sexual female."

Inspired by a true story, Exposed explores female sexuality in the modern age

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At a time when students take out an average of $37,172 in loans to pay for college, it's no wonder young people are desperate to find ways to avoid such debilitating debt. Recognize Theatre's Exposed at MCS Theatre explores the journey of one such undergraduate, an enterprising Ivy Leaguer who decides to moonlight as an adult film actor in order to pay her hefty tuition. Initially she feels liberated by her lucrative side gig, but once her identity becomes public, a firestorm erupts on campus and across the Twittersphere.

If this tale sounds familiar, that's because it's loosely inspired by the saga of a Duke University student whose brief career in pornography polarized the media five years ago. Kristin Heckler, the creator and director of Exposed, says the show was born out of a graduate school assignment to adapt a news story into a theatre piece. She chose this real-life controversy because, as an "ardent feminist and champion of sexuality" and Duke alumnus, it resonated for her.

"I was fascinated by how upset everybody was, including my own part in that," recalls Heckler, who admits she initially scratched her head at the coed's public declaration of feeling sexually empowered by BDSM. "Everyone was just pissed because she was smart. But why can't smart girls also be sexual?"

Before she started writing, Heckler, who holds a B.A. in women's studies, hit the books. "I did a lot of research on women who were vocal about enjoying BDSM, and victims of sexual assault using BDSM to take back their narrative," she says. The central character's porn name, Scarlett Blue (played by Sarah Raimondi), is also a nod to The Scarlet Letter and our society's unpleasant history of slut-shaming women who own their sexuality.

Pauline Sherrow, Sarah Raimondi and Jacob Sebastian Philips in
Pauline Sherrow, Sarah Raimondi and Jacob Sebastian Philips in 'Exposed'

To be clear, Exposed is no docudrama. Co-written by Heckler and her cast of three, the script is a combination of interview transcripts, social media commentary and actor improvisation. The true story may have provided the seed, but as Heckler and her collaborators worked on this devised theatre piece over many years, it evolved into a fiction that examines sexuality, misogyny and taboos in the Internet age. While the show takes a hard look at some titillating subjects, it's not hardcore: The performers simulate various sex acts, but they never touch -- blocking that was inspired by the stage directions in Heckler's favorite play, How I Learned to Drive.

The fact that two of the actors, Jacob Sebastian Phillips and Pauline Sherrow, portray all of the characters in Scarlett's orbit, adds another compelling layer to the experience. One minute Sherrow is Scarlett's mother, the next she's her sex scene partner on a shoot.

"I knew that I wanted many characters, and that dovetailed with the idea that they become every man and every woman," says Heckler. "I pull the actors into the audience, too. I want everyone to feel culpable. We are all part of this cultural shame around the sexual female. The virgin-whore dichotomy affects all women, whether or not they are sex workers. I would like for everyone who leaves this piece to think twice about shaming a woman -- or a man -- for embracing their sexuality."

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TDF MEMBERS: At press time, discount tickets were available for Exposed. Go here to browse our current offers.

Allison Considine is a staff writer at American Theatre magazine. Follow her at @theatric_ally. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.

Top image: Sarah Raimondi in Exposed. Photos by Kyle Mencel.




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