As a writer who’s authored an erotic memoir, and a filmmaker who’s an alum of CineKink NYC, it didn’t take much for The Brick Theater’s recent press release that landed in my inbox to grab my attention. Williamsburg, Brooklyn’s little theater that can-do was trumpeting their inaugural F*ckfest – a “sextival” that opened with a free cabaret on June 9th and runs all the way through July 3rd. In between those dates The Brick would be packed with nearly 20 shows of all sexual shapes and sizes – from comedy sketches, to multimedia performances, to an audio installation, to even an opera. And because I don’t normally receive invites that conclude with, “As noted scholar and professor of sexology Dr. Marvin P. Gaye, Jr. put it, ‘Let’s get it ahwnnn,’” I was lusting to find out more.
Fortunately, I was able to speak with The Brick’s Associate Artistic Director, and the event’s curator, Mariah MacCarthy halfway through the sexy fest.
Lauren Wissot: So how did the idea of a “sextival” originate? Seems a very European notion to me.
Mariah MacCarthy: I write about sex a lot. Pretty much all of my plays have to do with queerness, kink, gender, or some intersection of the three. The Brick Artistic Director Michael Gardner and I got to talking about one of my plays recently – “Safeword,” in which two people attempt to act out a rape fantasy together – and some other sex-themed plays that were up in New York at the time. I don’t remember who suggested it, but we decided to do a summer festival entirely of shows about sex. And here we are!
LW: How do you curate something like this? Did any artists propose something that was too raunchy to present – or had to be toned down for performance?
MM: I would never turn down something for being too raunchy. The only thing that matters to me is whether what happens onstage rings true or not. Shock for shock’s sake is so boring, and it’s nearly impossible in this context, because people coming to a tiny theater in Brooklyn for a “sextival” are probably not going to be easily shocked.
I curated this festival by seeking submissions. I already knew some of the pieces that were submitted, because I surround myself with likeminded folks, and strongly encouraged my favorite artists to send stuff, but most of the artists in Fuckfest are new to me. The raunchiest submission by far had to be pulled because of schedule conflicts, and it was going to involve the cleanup of a lot of fake cum every night, but I would have been delighted to have them.
On a side note, I think theater is way too squeamish about sex. Most sex scenes I see onstage feel embarrassed and apologetic. This is not about graphicness or nudity – it’s about honesty. Two of my favorite sex scenes in recent memory – in “Savage” by August Schulenburg, and in “Fuck Over Fuck Under” by Jesse Geguzis in Fuckfest – keep the participants basically clothed, but that choice feels totally organic to the scene. The actors were still going all-in, the physicality was totally there, and they were in circumstances where I believed that they’d keep their clothes on. But I wish more sex scenes didn’t telegraph so loudly that all the artists involved felt bad about it, especially when the scene itself is supposed to be a happy one.
LW: The burlesque scene is very female-centric behind the scenes – as it seems are many of these shows. Do you find that women artists are more comfortable presenting sex-themed work onstage than are their male counterparts?
MM: I think because I have a reputation for being a pretty loud feminist, and I know lots of brilliant lady artists, the submission pool skewed pretty female and/or queer. I also admit my own bias in this – I didn’t particularly feel drawn to the narratives where male heterosexuality was downstage center, unless they were subverting those narratives somehow. A different Fuckfest might have had a different gender makeup entirely, but this was my Fuckfest, so…
Something that makes me super happy is that a lot of female artists are performing their own work at Fuckfest. Tinka Jonakova, Abby Rosebrock, Kim Gainer, Charly Evon Simpson, Sarah Peterson, Shannon McPhee, and Catya McMullen are all performing in their own pieces, and I think that’s just freaking wonderful. They’re all excellent performers – and doing your own thing is the most empowering thing I can think of. Write your own rules and do your own shit. Otherwise you’ll just be waiting around a lot.
LW: What’s been the response from audiences so far? Have you had any unexpected hits – or shows that took you by surprise in some way?
MM: Audience response has been awesome! Just to sample a few of the hits of the fest…On the one hand, you’ve got “Singles in Agriculture” by Abby Rosebrock, which is this incredibly funny and heartfelt naturalistic play about a man and a woman who connect on the last night of a convention for, you guessed it, singles in agriculture. Then you’ve got “We Are Animals” by Catya McMullen, which is a kaleidoscope look at sex that combines rapping, monologues, and sketch comedy to look at sexuality from all kinds of directions (and there’s a rap in there called “The Kegel Shuffle”). And then you’ve got Opera on Tap’s “The Inner Circle,” which opens with a burlesque number, and then some naked people read out loud to you, and then you watch a bit of an opera about Alfred Kinsey. And then there’s the aforementioned “Fuck Over Fuck Under” by Jesse Geguzis, which is a series of snapshots about these incredibly vulnerable trans and queer and kinky people navigating their relationships with each other. All these shows have had amazing audience responses with lots of packed houses, and they could not be more different. But I’m not really surprised by the success of any of them, because I believe in these artists and that’s why I programmed them.
LW: Several of your productions have a multimedia component – and there’s even one show, Stephen Spotwood’s “Pieces of Strange,” which is an audio collection available for download on Bandcamp. Personally, I’m a strong believer in pushing the boundaries of theater outside the “black box.” Do you actively seek out work that moves beyond props and bodies on a stage?
MM: I just adore it when a work of art does something I’ve never seen before. Like, I freaked out when I saw The Arcade Fire’s performance at the YouTube Music Awards with Greta Gerwig, and it changes the rules of the world on you three different times. Or Taylor Mac’s work, which always does something I’ve never seen before. And I’m a big believer in “thinking outside the black box,” which is why I’ve done my own work as a playwright in apartments, and on piers, and in subway stations. But as long as you’re telling a story honestly and well, I’ll be happy.