The Sex Workers’ Art Show appeared at the University Center last night amid a flurry of dissent and protest — and heavy restrictions from the College.
But a former gay prostitute stripped down to his fourth pair of panties, a heavyset burlesque dancer pulled strands of dollar bills from her buttocks and some 450 audience members experienced a new facet of life through performances that ranged from the tame to the extreme.
SWAS founder and director Annie Oakley began the show by describing the problems she faced coming to the College.
“This has been a more arduous and degrading experience than anything in the sex industry,” she said, alluding both to resistance from the College and opposition from campus and local groups.
Last Monday, College President Gene Nichol announced that though he opposed the message of the show, he would not prevent it from appearing on campus. Two performances were held last night in the Commonwealth Auditorium, at 7 p.m. and again at 9:30 p.m. In previous years the there was only one showing. A question-and-answer session with the performers followed the late show.
The College stipulated in the contract that no cameras were allowed into the theater and also censored most of the nudity from the show. Only one performer bared her breasts.
The show’s problems continued to grow until curtains. Oakley announced at the beginning of the performances that only minutes before, State Attorney General Bob McDonnell called her and stopped the sale of SWAS merchandise, including T-shirts and books penned by the performers.
Student organizer Sarah Klotz ’08 said that Oakley expected to lose $500 per show for a total loss of at least $1,000. She added that organizers were looking to compensate the show for the loss.
Besides those problems, Klotz said the show was a success.
“The turnout was amazing … every single seat was filled. I saw people filing down — they had overwhelmingly positive responses. They seemed really excited,” she said. “Some of the performers were down there to greet people and talk to them a little bit more, which is also really great.”
The show featured performances by former and current sex industry workers. Former prostitute Kirk Read delivered a comedic monologue about his work and discussed the camera crews outside the UC.
“Thank you, Fox News, for showing up in my life,” he said, referencing his anticlimactic coming out in high school.
Other performances included a patriotic burlesque show by dancer Dirty Martini, a reading of porn actress Lorelei Lee’s short fiction and a recounting of The World Famous “Bob”’s start in the stripper industry. “Bob’s” act included a homage to the censorship she faced by wearing a black bar over her underwear. Oakley reminded the audience that people tend to focus on the word “sex” in the term “sex work.”
“The operative word in ‘sex work’ is ‘work,’” she said. Oakley declared Williamsburg the city with the most hysterical anxiety of any the tour visits, and she commented after the show that the problems she faced in here “really fueled [her] hatred for humanity.”
The protest outside the UC was a show in itself that included men playing a bugle-like instrument called a shofar, people dancing to religious music and a man dressed in an Uncle Sam-style military outfit.
About 25 protesters stood behind barriers at the UC entrance, and there were several confrontations between students and demonstrators, who wielded signs that quoted Biblical verses and phrases like, “WM is a college, not a strip club.” At one point, a sex show supporter standing near the protestors yelled, “I like sex.”
Police patrolled inside and outside the UC, but there were no police in the auditorium during the performance. Several College administrators attended the performance to make sure the performers did not violate their contract with the school, according to College spokesperson Brian Whitson.