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- A Story of O’s
Because yes, it really has been almost a year. Fuuuuuck. I just posted my schedule for the Winnipeg Fringe Festival on the A Story of O’s page, and I hope to book a venue for a run of the show in Portland before the end of the year as well. I may start writing here more. I may not. Lots of change in my life over the past couple years, and I do miss this as an outlet. We shall see. In the meantime, you can find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Fetlife as @TonyaJoneMiller. I tend to update social media with much more regularity than this blog.
(Sits at computer.)
Ok. Time to make a list of all the potential trigger warnings I should post at A Story of O’s.
(Goes through entire script and starts typing.)
(Reads list. Reads it again.)
Mhmm. Yep. That’s pretty much all of them.
(Breathes a little faster.)
It’s not really that bad. I mean, I barely touch on some of these topics. I certainly don’t act them out on stage. Well, not all of them…
(Gets anxious butterflies.)
(Pulse begins to race.)
I can’t get arrested for this, can I?
(Butterflies turn to full-blown nausea.)
Shit. Shit shit shit.
(Hands start to tremble uncontrollably.)
What are people going to think about me after seeing this? What if they think I’m a disgusting, awful person for even talking about these things? What if nobody ever loves me ever again?
Is it too late to cancel all my shows?
(Checks ticket sales.)
Fuck. I’ve sold advance tickets for every performance. I have to do this.
(Gets heart palpitations.)
I wonder how much it would cost to move to Belize and go off the grid.
(Thinks about lush rain forests. And unspoiled coastal waters. And not doing the show.)
Fuuuuuuck. I have to do this, don’t I? I have to do this show. I have to do this fucking show.
(Takes some deep breaths.)
Ok. Am I absolutely 100% sure I have to do this show, and how come?
(Reads the last few lines of the script.)
Oh. Yes. Right. That’s why.
About a year ago, I was approached by some people who were putting together a sex-themed storytelling show. They either found my blog or my Fetlife profile, and contacted me to see if I wanted to perform at one of their shows. It wouldn’t be too hard for you to figure out the name of the event, but I’m not going to mention it here for two reasons.
First, this isn’t meant to be a personal attack against the producers or a diatribe against the event. I run across similar situations repeatedly, and they specifically are merely one of the inspirations for this post. Second, I decline to use what little influence and social media clout I may have to further their “brand awareness.” This actually speaks to the larger issue at hand, so back to the story.
When it comes to erotic storytelling and erotic improvisation, I literally have thousands of hours of experience. I believe you would be hard-pressed to find a single person in the city of Portland with more professional credentials in this particular niche. So it came as no surprise when they approached me.
I have performed at similar events across North America. I have a couple of rehearsed monologues I can do on a whim, but I prefer to improvise an erotic piece based on audience suggestions. (I think my “Peanut Butter” bit from the Toronto cabaret will live in infamy…) When I suggested this to the producers, they informed me they had a process and framework they wanted me to adhere to.
I was to pitch them a story via email. If they were interested, we’d meet in person so I could tell them the entire story. If they were still interested, they’d give me notes (“details, clarifications of story points, or thoughts on structure”) and schedule me to perform.
Let me take a moment to remind you that they were pursuing me. I had no attachment to being in their show and in fact wasn’t sure at that point that I wanted to be. Which I told them. I am asked to do this sort of thing all the time, and I don’t need the exposure. I enjoy erotic storytelling performance, but mostly because I like the way I do it. When my clients are paying me $3/minute, I do it their way. When I do it for my own joy and artistic fulfillment, I prefer having the autonomy to tell/improvise whatever story I want as I see fit.
They were very persistent, to the tune of multiple emails over the course of six months. During this time I pitched a potential story but was told it wasn’t sexual enough. (I know, I know, the mind boggles…) I tried to clarify that it was actually a sex story and that I thought my mistake in the pitch was a phone sex operator’s mistake- we all talk dirty and vulgar, so it’s the non-sexual details and descriptions that make a fantasy seem more real and fleshed-out.
The impression I got from the response was that I was mistaken, and that the story in my head (that they hadn’t even heard yet) wasn’t sexual enough. At which point, I attempted to politely decline working with them because I didn’t think my style was a good fit with theirs.
They asked me to reconsider and offered to put me on the guest list for the next show so I could see what they are doing and hopefully be inspired to operate within their framework. I wasn’t particularly optimistic, but I agreed. Due to that pesky blizzard earlier this year, I wasn’t able to make it to the show I was supposed to see. I emailed my regrets and promised to attend the next one. I was told they’d love to have me but wouldn’t be able to give me a comp as their guest list was already full. However, I was welcome to buy a ticket and see the show if I wanted to.
Um, what? I didn’t particularly want to see the show. How often do you think, “gee it’s my night off, so just for fun, why don’t I go watch someone do what I do for work?” I was taking time out of my life to do this for them, to assess whether I felt comfortable compromising my personal artistic vision and process to work within theirs. But hey, I was a concert and special event producer for a decade, so I know about budgets and capacity issues and the like. Guest list full? No problem, I thought, I’ll go to the next one.
A month later, they again contact me. Did I see the last show? Nope, but I could attend this month if they can find room for me on the guest list. I was informed that wouldn’t be possible, as they’ve had to limit their guest list to staff and storytellers. *blinks* Isn’t that what I am? A potential storyteller? One who they have been pursuing for months, who is still obviously on the fence about working with them? As politely as I could, I informed them that meant I would not be attending the show in that case. Obviously it also means I won’t be performing in it anytime in the near future.
Lest you think this is about my own sense of entitlement, please allow me to share the reasons for my strong reactions to situations like this…
First, I don’t think I should have to pay for the privilege of possibly compromising my own artistic process in order to lend my cache and experience to someone else’s show. I make a living directly off phone sex and the original writings I perform in my one-person plays. They’re essentially asking me to gift them a story I could sell myself, which I may actually be willing to do, whether for fun, charitable donation, or creative fulfillment. But I shouldn’t have to pay out of pocket to do them that favor.
Simply put, I know my worth. I’ve spent the last decade honing my craft and building a reputation, and I know what kind of crowd I can draw to an event of that nature. Years of touring the fringe festival circuit has taught me there is no pride in playing to an empty house, so if I sign on for something, I will be shameless in promoting it via social media, personal email lists, and face-to-face. I understand why they want me to perform at their event, but what I want to know is, what do I get out of it?
Or am I not supposed to ask that question if I want to be a Twue Artiste? Should I just roll over and be glad that someone, anyone, is going to “let me do my art”? As if just getting to perform should be reward enough?
Let me clue everybody in to a little secret…The opportunity for artistic expression? I have that already. I regularly perform for crowds of 40 to 400, doing shows of my own creation, with complete autonomy and artistic control. And I make money off it. This doesn’t lessen the quality of my art. I need to be able to support myself, just like you. I have trained and spent years at my chosen career. I am good at it because I have practiced and practiced and practiced. I’ve poured more money, time, and energy than I could possibly quantify into becoming a better actor, performer, playwright, artist.
Ask any artist you know how often they get asked to donate works or perform for free in exchange for “the exposure.” I guarantee you it is more often than not. Think about that. More than half of the “opportunities” I am given to share my creative work come with no compensation. How would you feel if you were asked to do your job for free half of the time? And suggesting that exposure is an artist’s compensation in these situations is insulting and ignorant. How do I benefit from exposure if it is to people who don’t want to pay for art in the first place?
Which brings me back around to my original story. After thinking about it for a while, I decided to seek out some folks who have performed at the event, just to get a different take on it. Maybe my knee-jerk reaction was too harsh. After all, the producers obviously have a strong vision, and I really do believe in supporting sex-positive events with crossover appeal to the mainstream. They have the potential to open hearts and minds.
But what I gleaned was that I am definitely not a good fit with the show. I’d have to create a custom story, be willing to edit it per their suggestions, and take direction on the telling of it. Which would mean at least one live telling to the producers, edits and reworking, and (I’m assuming) another rehearsal/telling with the producers, and then performance. It starts to depart from what I consider unscripted storytelling (which is more how they sell the event) and veer toward rehearsed performance. That requires time and multiple rehearsals to do successfully. For which I would be paid…wait for it…Nothing.
Essentially, I’d provide them with content and talent as a hired hand. Except I wouldn’t be compensated. Here, playwright, write what we tell you. Here, actor, perform this script the way we want you to. Since I create, perform, and make a living off doing these things for myself, I need a good reason to do it for someone else, especially for free.
As I mentioned before, I have produced similar events before, and I know the producers aren’t getting rich off this. But they are charging a ticket price. The advertisements get paid for. The venue gets a rental fee. The security guards at the club get paid. The bartenders get paid. The box office person gets paid. The venue sound and light technicians get paid. The producers make whatever money is leftover, if any (that’s the risk of being a producer). Why are the storytellers themselves, the entertainers, the artists not worthy of the same consideration? I’m the one getting on stage, sharing my story, being vulnerable in front of an audience, and that doesn’t deserve any monetary compensation?
I don’t harbor ill will toward the event or the producers; I am simply declining to participate in their show with these given circumstances. This really speaks to a larger problem in our society: the generally accepted idea that art isn’t worth paying for, or that being an artist isn’t a valid profession. That I’m lucky anyone is paying attention to me, much less money, and I should just be satisfied having my ego stroked by applause once in a while. Yes, I take it personally. No, I’m not sorry.
Do me a favor. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine your life without art. No paintings, films, poetry, literature, theatre, or music…No art of any kind. It’s actually almost impossible to do. But please try. Because if you refuse to actively value art and artists, there will be fewer and fewer of us able to continue creating. There will be less art. And that would make the world an ugly, uninhabitable place.
With every inch of new skin you touch, may you explore infinite universes of blissful sensation.
In each scent of a new lover you encounter, may you remember a thousand beloved sense memories you didn’t know you possessed.
Cupping the curve of a different breast, may you celebrate the unique beauty of each of your beloved’s bodies.
May their moans fall on ears that can distinguish every single spectrum of every single sound wave, every nuance of each gulp, gasp, and groan.
When you try to give them pleasure, may you succeed beyond your wildest imagination and expectation.
And when you look into their eyes, may you see reflected the joy you give to all your loves and the passion you inspire in me.
Oh holy jesus fuck. This is happening…
100: A Story of O’s
written & performed by Tonya Jone Miller
8:30pm Friday 23 May 2014
10:00pm Saturday 31 May 2014
Minion Solo Festival (May 23 – May 31, 2014)
Seattle Creative Arts Center
2601 NW Market Street
Seattle, WA 98107
When Tonya takes a job as a phone sex operator, she has no idea how much it will change her life. Play voyeur as she learns the ups and downs of an in-and-out industry. Meet some of her more memorable clients and be possibly aroused (and likely disturbed too) by their unique fetishes. It isn’t long before Tonya discovers there’s a lot more to phone sex than just talking dirty, and some of her callers’ fantasies have become her own. Ride along on her hilarious, hot, and heart-warming journey to find out there might just be a little pervert in all of us.
Tonya Jone Miller is a lifelong lover, performer, and creator of theatre from Portland, Oregon. She is best known for her work on Dance Naked Productions’ Inviting Desire with Eleanor O’Brien, and for her award-winning solo show, Threads, about her American mother’s experiences in Vietnam during the war. Tonya is a renowned phone sex operator and the owner of BayCityBlues.com, as well as being an openly kinky, sex-positive educator who teaches workshops on how to talk dirty and role-play. She has been featured in BUST Magazine, the upcoming full-length feature documentary Hotline, HBO’s Real Sex, Thrillist, Tits and Sass, and Forbes. Tonya is the proud owner of a dirty mind, a filthy mouth, and a clean conscience.
**Awards and Accolades for TJM’s previous work, Threads**
Best of Fest (Patron’s Pick)
2012 Winnipeg Fringe Festival
2013 London Fringe Festival
2013 Toronto Fringe Festival
2013 Winnipeg Fringe Festival
Outstanding Performance of 2013 – NOW Magazine Toronto
Outstanding Female Performance of 2012 – CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)
#1, Top Ten Shows of 2012 – UMFM
“Subtle, smooth, sad and emotionally engrossing.” ~The Boston Globe
“Leaps off the stage with life…A consistently thrilling celebration of the places we go and the people we meet.” ~CBC
“A quietly engaging, understated performer with a thoroughly trustworthy air.” ~Edmonton Sun
“A true object of beauty – don’t miss….the best one-woman show of the fringe.” ~Winnipeg Free Press
“A wondrous ride…Miller is a charismatic, engaging storyteller.” ~Vue Weekly
“Miller’s understated performance is the perfect vehicle to tell this story.” ~London Free Press
“Quietly and effectively builds to a truly emotional conclusion.” ~Orlando Sentinel
DISCLAIMER: I began thinking about and writing this months ago but haven’t been able to bring myself to finish it until recently. It isn’t inspired by any one particular person, but by a combination of relationships. I’m going to be posting a number of pieces over the next few months that are works-in-progress intended for performance eventually. I am using a healthy amount of creative license here, so nothing should be taken personally or as my version of gospel truth.
Usually, you don’t know it’s the last time when it’s the last time. I read something along those lines in a book somewhere, maybe Written on the Body? Things fall apart and there’s just a hole, and then you realize, “oh, that last time we did X, that was the last time we’re going to do that.”
The last time we giggled over an inside joke. The last time we kissed. The last time we fucked. The last time you made me breakfast. The last time I looked at you without anger, expectations, or resentment in my eyes. The last time we were nice to each other. The last time it was good.
Other memories begin to fade, but the last times linger, bittersweet. The last time you brushed my hair. The last time I gave you a massage. The last time you held my face in your hands. The last time we watched cartoons on a lazy Sunday morning. All these last times pile up on my chest, slowly collapsing me, forcing the air from my lungs.
When it hits, the realization of what “last time” truly means, I don’t push the weight of it off me. I want to be crushed, decimated by the loss of you. It needs to feel real. Otherwise, how will I get my brain around it? I keep forgetting. I catch myself making plans for us in my head. I tell myself it’s the last time, every time. And I hope eventually I’m right.
Slowly, it becomes a different kind of last time. The last time I’ll have to lower the chair at my computer desk. The last time I’ll clean beard trimmings from the bathroom sink. The last time a thought of you sends shards through my heart. These last times are good things. Little victories leading up to the big one. The last time I think of you and still want you. The last, last time. Because that one leads to the firsts.
The first time I make exactly what I want for dinner. The first time I flirt with a cute stranger. The first time I sing karaoke without you. The first time someone else tells me I’m beautiful. The first time I kiss another man. The first time I feel a new lover’s hands on me. The first time I come without you in my head.
The first time I realize I’m me again.
The first time I think of you, and smile.
The first time I click on this link and it doesn’t make me cry.
Sometimes, when I need it most, the Universe gives me a little hug. I recently received this email from a client who wishes to remain anonymous but gave me permission to post his words here.
Welcome home and my most sincere congratulations!
It appears you were covered in accolades for the last few months with your Threads tour. That must be extremely satisfying for you considering the anxiety you expressed before leaving.
Letting go, as you referenced in your blog post, is something that holds quite a few of us back. Time goes on and we cling to the routine, unwilling to change, and so life and opportunities pass us by.
The universe doesn’t care about our dreams, and will let us die an empty, unfulfilled lump of unused potential if we just hold on to thestatus quo. But…it has no choice but to respond to the plans and actions of someone who is obsessed with a vision.
You have a vision, to combine a mere 26 letters, over and over again, in many different combinations, in such a way as to open the hearts and minds of all who you meet.
Keep doing it. The strong may survive, but the obsessed leave a mark that echoes down the hallway of literature and theater.
Best wishes and I hope to speak to you again soon.
When I am alone and far away, I close my eyes and imagine you here with me. You chuckled when I told you, months ago, that I was attempting to memorize your scent, the smell of you where neck meets shoulder, the place I like to bury my face when you make me blush. You didn’t know that even then I was preparing myself for this, cataloguing and filing away every detail, each sense memory.
When I am alone and far away, I am weak. I need. I want. I crave touch. Your hand resting on the nape of my neck, gently but firmly guiding me in public. Or your lips locked onto my nipple, eliciting a gasp that begs for more. Your teeth, your breath, warm and damp on my skin, whispering promises of sweet pain across my flesh. Your fingers, exploring and opening me, pressing a delicious rhythm into my wetness. Your eyes, laying me bare in a way no clothing could cover. My body, under yours, undulating and writhing and urging you faster, deeper, harder.
When I am alone and far away, I curl myself around these memories, clutching them tightly to my belly, letting them comfort me in empty rooms and strange cities. I re-live the first kiss, hand on my jaw, so deliberate, the feeling of being claimed for at least that moment. I savor the first orgasm again and again. Mine, yours, ours. I give myself another, in honor of you.
When I am alone and far away, I smile and flirt with strangers, knowing none of them are my size. I feel the lust rolling off of them and wait for it to crash against my shores. It flatters, and fails. Convince me you could own me, overpower me, I want to shout. Show me you know what you’re getting into, that you’re up for the challenge. I’m easy, but I’m not easy; why is that so difficult for them to grasp? It only took you a hand on my throat.
Someone recently commissioned me to write them a custom piece of erotica, and I enjoyed the process enough that I figured I should mention it. You provide the topic and any important details, and I’ll write an original fantasy of at least 800 words for $100. If you’re interested, email me for details.