Photo of Post Porn Modernists Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens by Julian Cash.
It must be nice to write a column for The Globe: you can pass judgment on artists’ work without attending to pesky trivialities like seeing their shows, and project your own insecurities and feelings of lack onto people who are actually changing the world. Herein is a review of a recent show by Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, plus some thoughts about Ms. Sprinkle’s workshop at Come As You Are. And because we’re old-fashioned, the reviewer attended both events (note to Leah and Globe copy editors—the twenty-eight year old cultural force that is Buddies in Bad Times Theatre is not Buddies and Bad Times).
Exposed: Experiments in Love, Sex, Death and Art is a celebration of the relationship shared by Annie and Beth—it celebrates all loving relationships, really—with visual art, interventions, filmmaking, lectures, performance art, printed matter, and activism. It was created as a response to recent wars, the anti-gay marriage movement, and the “prevailing culture of cynicism.”
The couple’s first action of the evening was to photograph the breasts of willing audience members, an act which, as you might imagine, was quite an ice-breaker. Giggling ensued from the diverse crowd, and one Buddies regular quipped, “Where did all these straight people come from?” The Polaroids were quickly integrated onscreen as part of the visual component of the show, and will be saved for a future art exhibition in San Francisco.
The play is structurally divided into four sections fashioned after the subjects introduced in its title. Each segment was introduced by a list poem in which audience members contributed their definitions of love, sex, death, and art prior to the start of the show. Even banal responses like “Love is…a battlefield” and “Death is…inevitable” were made interesting by the duo’s seasoned theatrical skills, and the poems were successful. We couldn’t decide which concept is most difficult to define (and what our answer might say about us), but Thursday’s crowd seemed most confident on the topic of art.
Read more about Exposed and Ms. Sprinkle’s sex workshop after the jump.
So sure, it’s a love story with a happy ending, but there is nothing cliché about all points in between. Annie and Beth met through art in 1987; their first date, described as three days and three nights of glorious sex (with breaks for meals and a joint trip to keep an appointment with Annie’s therapist), came eighteen years later. Their personal and professional lives were revealed in two simultaneous monologues, a she-said/she-said sound poem with visual aids. It might sound confusing, but it was touching to hear their stories follow separate tangents, always returning to shared experiences.
It wasn’t all fun and games, though: together, they survived Annie’s bout with breast cancer, and their frustrating year-long attempt to conceive a child. Their conviction to “make art and survive” inspires. By the end of the show, when the crowd was romping through “What the World Needs Now” Karaoke, it was apparent that love, sex, death, and art are more intertwined than we’ve been taught, and that we might be wise to throw away our inhibitions and join them in celebrating the whole darned thing.
Two nights later, at Queen West sex shop Come As You Are, Ms. Sprinkle gave good workshop on ecstasy breathing and energy orgasms. Participants watched her new documentary, Annie Sprinkle’s Amazing World of Orgasm, which featured twenty-six sexperts from every field. Think serious doc, yes, but think expansive experimental art film and public (pubic?) service (cervix?) announcement porn as well.
After a brief overview of her career, Annie demonstrated her favourite breathing technique (found in her book, Dr. Sprinkle’s Spectacular Sex). Next, chairs were pushed aside, mats strewn about the floor, and participants began their own experiments with her guidance. We’re not at liberty to divulge what happened next, but it’s safe to say that clothes stayed on and orgasms were had. Our advice: you might want get down to Come As You Are and pick up that book!
Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle hope that their work makes “the world a more fun, sexy, tolerant, well-educated, love-filled place.” If you’re worried that this artist’s statement sounds too happy to be brainy, don’t: Exposed alone would satisfy several graduate students’ needs for dissertation topics, and we don’t have time here to talk about the rest of their fascinating Love Art Lab project.
Sex-positive feminism isn’t dead—she has just grown up and found extreme joy in being herself. Which isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Photo, above right: Annie Sprinkle signing books with rainbow pens at Come As You Are.