Ugly Mugs is a play written by a non sex worker about sex workers lives, containing the misinformation and stigma one would expect to result from someone writing about a life they have not lived. The main character is the nameless “working girl”, played by Peta Brady herself. Brady in her role as a health outreach worker accessed sex workers accounts of rape, violence and trauma via a closed sex worker only publication and then used this as ‘inspiration’ for her work. In the play itself one of the characters reads aloud onstage from the closed sex worker only publication of the same name (see picture).
So what has the response been from Peta Brady and the Griffin Theatre?
Originally when approached by concerned sex workers after the play moved from Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre to Sydney’s Griffin they asked for a copy of the local Ugly Mugs publication for “publicity purposes”. Indicating quite clearly that they had either completely failed to listen to sex workers concerns, didn’t care, or both.
Now that sex workers have raised concerns on social media and they actually have to be accountable in public?
Griffin Theatre have posted a response failing to address most of the key points in the original blog but instead emphasizing that:
1) The “entire play is a fictional work”
2) Refering to the pamphlet the character pictured above reads from “It is not a real copy of an Ugly Mugs issue”
Well, I completely agree on count 1 and that’s what we’re complaining about – when writing about the lives of sex workers as a non sex worker you get it wrong, because you are not speaking from lived experience. This is disturbing to sex workers as a marginalized group because we do not need our lives explained to us, we do not need or want to be rescued from our work. What I want as a sex worker is to have my human rights, my labour rights, recognised.
On point 2, check the photo. Your denials don’t mean much to Melbourne sex workers when we recognise what’s in his hand.
A reference is made to sex workers (in previously publicity the term “working girls” was used) seeing the play in rehearsals, but Vixen Collective (Victoria’s Peer Only Sex Worker Organisation) met with Malthouse and provided feedback while the play was still in rehearsal and our concerns were ignored.
Griffin also says in reference to Scarlet Alliance (Australian Sex Workers Association) “suggested that if they felt the differences, or localised issues, needed to be further addressed, we would be happy to collaborate by providing a platform through the media, a public forum or online publication”.
Well it’s not every day the Australian Sex Workers Association gets suggestions on how to do it’s work from non sex workers putting on a highly problematic play.. I guess we better take that seriously then? The meeting was for you to listen to our concerns, but obviously you missed the point of that.
You are still not listening.
You say – “We believe that this play describes violence not to glamorise it as entertainment, nor to create ‘pity’ for the ‘victims’”
Let me be clear: since you have not lived my life, you cannot describe it.
Let be be clearer still: you have no right to access the private accounts of rape, violence and trauma of my community and recycle these as entertainment, no matter how you attempt to justify it.
Listen: I am not your victim. You do not speak for me.
Want to read the Griffin’s excuses?
** Updated to include current media coverage as of 8:00pm EST 13th Aug 2014 **
Sex workers accuse Griffin, Malthouse of exploitation – Arts Hub
Sex workers accuse playwright of exploitation – Daily Review (Crikey)
Ugly Mugs & the politics of representation – ABC Arts Critic Alison Croggon (on Storify)
Sex worker union member attacks Peta Brady play Ugly Mugs (Sydney Morning Herald) this story also ran in The Age, Brisbane Times and Canberra Times.