Words by Gregg Clark
Photo by Pat Bolduc
Last Month, theatre creators sent out a call for writers and guest performers in the Ottawa community. “You’ve been asked for a reason,” reads the invitation. “We either think you are a good writer, performer, or a great masturbator.” Participants were given log-in credentials for a throwaway email account which they could then use to anonymously submit stories by emailing the creators directly. A series of guest performers will share the stories submitted.
Jerk It will be at Arts Court for one night only, March 13, 2014 at 7:00pm. Admission is PWYC at the door. “Adult drinks” will be available, according to a Facebook post by the creators. As well as, “a few things to keep your hands busy… Play-doh you can mold into genitals, or whatever you may feel. A Chat Roulette booth – with a competition to see how many dicks you can find in five minutes. An anonymous list of places you’ve tugged, jerked, diddled, flicked, rubbed, grabbed, pulled, twisted, groped, jacked, jilled, pettedslappedsmackedwhackedtickled your privates in private (or in some cases, public).”
Herd Magazine caught up with Tony Adams and Madeleine Boyes-Manseau whose indie company, May Can Theatre, are hosting Jerk It.
Any stories about first times?
MBM Two of them involve faking sick to experiment on the family couch. I find it incredibly sweet how pre-mediated the masturbatory acts are in each of these stories.
How old were you?
MBM I was 12 and it wasn’t a roaring success. In a way, it was something I had to learn to be good at. It’s weird how little we can know our own bodies.
TA I was about 11 or 12 I think? Skipped school by faking sick with a clear intention of learning what masturbating was. Not because I felt a need to do it, I just knew everyone else knew about it.
How did you get the idea?
MBM I learned at church, I think. I was raised by Unitarians and Unitarians are big on comprehensive holistic lifespan sex education. They run this program called Our Whole Lives with curricula designed for ages K to death running the gamete between sexual health to the political, social and spiritual aspects of sexuality. All the facts. Maybe too many facts? Cole’s Notes version: For the longest time, all that stuff wasn’t about me. It was hand drawn illustrations of people in wheel chairs having sex projected onto a church basement wall. It was a theoretical exercise in empathy for other’s experience of their sexuality.
How did you get the idea… for the play?
MBM Tony has had the dream of staging an event like Jerk It for a while.
TA I have a plethora of masturbation stories and just wanted an outlet for them. Every time I ran it by someone they would be kind of apprehensive, but a week later would come up to me and tell me they have a story they want to share.
MBM And masturbation makes for good storytelling and theatre, because well we all do it and it’s titillating.
Would you even call it a play? What is it?
TA This is the weird part. No one is telling their own story so it becomes a bit removed. But all the stories are true stories.
MBM An evening of performative storytelling, maybe? More performance than storytelling in the way that no one is reading their own story, so there is a definite performative layer at play. And more storytelling in that they are all true.
How many submissions came through? Did any sign their name?
MBM Close to 20 of which we chose 14. For the greatest variety of masturbatory experiences.
TA It’ll be fun the night of to see people squirming, maybe from being uncomfortable with subject matter, or from hearing their story told by someone else. Kinda voyeuristic, you know?
Can I still share my story?
MBM You can always share your story! We’ve capped off those that will be read on Thursday. But if you ever feel the urge to share, send your self-love stories our way and we will happily read them. It might just make our day. It’s actually really lovely being entrusted with people’s personal stories. I have really enjoyed reading them and not just because some of them are a bit sexy, but they are all just really good stories that a lot about the people writing them.
What’s going to happen at the show?
TA As a theatre community we are used to getting together to watch, listen, to take in and then later reflect. These are all great, but a lot of what we want to do is get audiences together in new ways. Where we can share in an authentic way, be together and interact. Rather than together and quiet. Let the content spur discussion right away, surprise you and celebrate it. Like a wicked party with theatrical intentions.
Why the guest performers?
MBM I like that each story, being of a unique voice onto itself will be told by a unique voice. Adds a certain performative element.
TA With guest performers it allows audiences to take the story, not the person going through it. It almost heightens it in a sense. We don’t feel bad for the person’s secrets being shared, we’re just glad to hear them.
Is it because you submitted your own stories? Is it because you’re going to use only your stories? Is the anonymous participation a rouse or placebo for a meta-play you’ve already written? That would be excellent theatre. Yes/No.
MBM Yes, we each have at least one story as part of the event. A lifetime supplies of lotion and Kleenexes to the person who can guess all three! And yes, that would be theatrical genius indeed. But we ain’t subtle enough to pull it off.
TA That would be excellent theatre. We have been jerking off for months as a method acting training program. Trying to recreate these situations to really get the feeling right. And, heads up, inside scoop, there will be a splash zone, so come prepared.
Have you edited the stories at all?
MBM Grammar, sentence structure and typos, yes. To make life easier for our readers. Censored any of them in anyway? No. What we received is what will be read.
Do your moms know about this?
TA My mom was at our year launch*, and from the get go this was the one she was looking forward to the most. Which makes me kind of happy the stories are anonymous… but kind of scares me to think she may find something familiar. Just another layer to add onto the night I suppose.
*Editor’s note: May Can are in the midst of a year-long project launched in January. Their goal is to create and perform a piece for every month of 2014.
You’re roommates. Ever consider that you never hear anyone else masturbate but maybe they can all hear your bedtime wank?
MBM I’ve heard people have sex before, but wanking… I don’t believe so. And yeah, that is definitely a consideration, but I’m usually good about being quiet or waiting until no one’s home. God. Now I’m kinda weirded out to think that we could all have been, at a certain point in time, simultaneously pleasuring ourselves in different rooms of the same house.
TA I literally panic about this all the time. I can hear people leave their room downstairs. Like, sound fucking travels here. So if ever I go down stairs after a little indulgence and see some one in the kitchen or something, a part of me wonders. They do give me crooked smiles a lot, so if anything I don’t think it’s a problem.
Are you performing at Fringe Festivals this summer?
TA We are! We are heading to Montreal, Winnipeg, and Edmonton. With our show Wolves>Boys.