What happens when several women writing about sex-positive issues on-line start talking to each another?
In this particular case, it resulted in the long-running, sex-positive, monthly live performance event BedPost Confessions here in Austin.
Co-producers Mia Martina, Sadie Smythe, and Julie Gillis all met virtually through their podcasts and blogs. Sadie knew co-producerRosie Q from her erotic fiction and together, they decided to create a sexually-themed erotic reading event in Austin.
“A lot of people want to tell stories about themselves,” Gillis said. “There's something powerful about sharing a piece of yourself.” She continued by saying that BedPost Confessions strives to create a courageous space for its performers, and one that is “safe enough.”
The producers noted that roughly 75% of current submissions are true-to-life tales, ranging in emotional scope from mortifying to joyful. BedPost Confessions accepts a variety of submission formats, including fiction, cultural explorations, book excerpts, pieces about the history and/or politics of sexuality, and even entertainment-based pieces like music, magic, or dance.
BedPost Confessions started at Spiderhouse in 2010, and the small venue was packed even for their first performance. From the beginning, BedPost Confessions was a participatory performance event, with confessions from audience members being read during every show. For the initial show, each of the producers performed a piece of their past writing they were excited to share. Now, they each take turns performing original works, with three out of four pieces being performed by community members.
“We never thought the show would just be us,” Gillis said. Mia added that even the first BedPost Confession flyers had information about how to submit your own stories, and that the producers worked hard to reach out to friends, networks, and the community.
In 2012, BedPost moved to The North Door, which can accommodate the 300 or so attendees the show currently attracts each month. BedPost Confessions celebrated its fourth anniversary this past September.
While one might expect that a sex-centered performance event would generate criticism from the conservative right (especially in Texas), the producers said there hasn't been any pushback regarding the show's content. “It's a pretty wholesome show,” Gillis said. “It's not as risqué as people think. There's a mixture of humor and sweetness,” she explained. “It's an earnest show. It has a wholesome element: it's about ourselves, about starting a conversation.”
Gillis said the pushback the show does receive comes in two camps: people who think the show is too political, and those who do not think it is political enough. “But we don't know how it would play in Lubbock,” she admitted. “Who knows what would happen if you tried to do it in Waco.”
She went on to explain that BedPost Confessions has a three-prong goal: entertainment, ethics, and education. “People in the audience take in a seed,” she said. “Everyone has a path they're walking: entertainer, sex educator, consent workshops...if we can inspire any of those things, that's great.”
Martina added that BedPost Confessions has provided a space for starting a conversation. “You can hear what other people are doing, start a conversation based on what you've seen. Often, the hardest part of sex is being able to express what you want. It's made tangible if you see a movie or a show.” Gillis added that BedPost Confessions has value because it offers “an actual space where you see other people you may know in other parts of your life.” This public and populist community space is one which can foster conversation and connection even after the performance ends.
BedPost Confessions is interested in submissions from all kinds of individuals. Currently, however, women make up the majority of those who perform. “It's tricky for straight men to come into the space without doing gender/sexual work first,” Gillis admitted. “It's not for lack of trying,” Martina added, saying that there is also a feedback loop involved: men don't see themselves as much on-stage, so they are perhaps less inspired to send submisions as a result.
Gillis also noted that women are more indoctrinated with the confessional format (whether through women's magazines, or the encouragment to write in a journal or diary from a young age) which makes it easier for women to insert themselves into that particular performance frame. “The men we do have bring it,” Martina explained. “When we do get a straight guy it's good.”
In December, Paul Shreeman will perform a piece about his journay regarding celibacy by choice. Shreeman is deaf, so his performance will provide a new way for the ASL interpreters of BedPost Confessions to be involved in the show. Shreeman's performance will also give BedPost Confessions a chance to further explore the connections between ability and sexuality, including invisible disability and the “other”-ing of disabled individuals. “We're all sexual beings,” Gillis said. “Even if asexual. There's a larger sexual map, and we have to think about trying to keep that open.”
The producers hope that BedPost Confessions creates a space where each performer has the possibility to help other people who've had the same experiences. “People think no one else is having the same issue,” Gillis said. “They think, 'I'm the only one,' or 'I'm a weirdo.'” Martina added, “People have the same concerns and issues with sexuality.” Martina said the show still gets confessions from women who haven't had an orgasm from vaginal penetration, from people who haven't had a date in a year, from those who throw up during a blow job. “It's all so private,” Gillis said. “How do we even talk about it?”
“There's a power in putting the thoughts in your head on paper and into world,” Gillis said. “It's a piece of magic. It's incredible to get to witness someone having that experience. We don't know what the outcome of what we've done is,” she continued. “The ripple of change in people's lives and hearts. We take it very seriously.”
If you'd like to learn more about BedPost Confessions or get involved, there are plenty of ways to do so. The next BedPost Confessions performance is Thursday, November 20 at the North Door. You can also listen to the BedPost Confessions podcast on-line or by subscribing on iTunes. Two podcast episodes are created each month, featuring one story from the previous month's live performance, and closing and opening with confessions. There are currently 64 podcast episodes, so if you're just tuning in, there are plenty of stories to keep you busy in between the live shows!
If you're interested in performing, the producers are always taking submissions. Guidelines for submission are available on their website. The show is usually booked a few months in advance, so don't be surprised if you're contacted to perform a few months out. BedPost Quickies will also return in the spring. This event is more relaxed, and would be good for a performer who wants to test the waters in a lower-risk setting. Anyone can bring a 6-minute story to share, and there are 15 performance slots available. BedPost Quickies will be a bi-annual event to encourage even more community involvement and maximize the BedPost Confessions experience.
This article was originally published by The Horn on 11/20/2014.