Sarah Jones Selling/Buying/Dating Interview
Sarah Jones is perhaps best known for impersonating other people. The writer and actress shot to fame at the start of her solo show Bridge & Tunnel went from an Off-Broadway hit to a Broadway hit and a Tony Award winner.
In 2016, Jones, who appeared in films and television series, including Marriage story and vast city— brought another solo exhibition, Sell/Buy/Date, to the New York scene. In this play, Jones played over a dozen characters, all of whom touched on different aspects and opinions of sex work.
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On November 8, Jones’ new documentary, also called Sell/Buy/Date— is starting to stream, but the film (written and directed by Jones and produced by a group including Abigail Disney, Agnes Gund and Meryl Streep, among others) isn’t exactly what fans of the theatrical work might get their hands on. expect. “Jones”, the New York Times recently stated, “does not treat the tensions between exploitation and empowerment, personal agency and systemic cruelties, as binaries. Instead, they’re gripping, confusing, and…personal.
The film still dives into the modern world of sex work, taking Jones and some of his characters across the country and into the lives of real people to explore their experiences, but it also grapples with the real backlash Jones experienced when the film was announced for the first time, allowing him to expose a character who has not always been at the forefront of his work: Sarah Jones herself. Here she discusses the film with T&Cs.
Anyone who has seen Sell/Buy/Date on stage might be surprised that it is not an adaptation of this work.
It’s a special experience to share space and air with other members of the public in the midst of everything that happens on stage. It’s not duplicable in my experience; nothing replaces a live performance in front of an audience. So when I thought, I’m just gonna film it, it was like, no, it’s missing everything. It would look like an easy thing, which is not the case on stage. The ideas in the play – questioning where we are as a society around women, sex, power and commerce – can be represented by finding human beings who deal with them. I used the medium as best I could by centering these people on screen.
You also show yourself, not just the characters you play.
It’s the most vulnerable I’ve ever been as an artist; I question the decision daily, again. What I realized was that as simple as it sounds, vulnerability is the new strength. By hiding, I miss the opportunity to expose something that I share with many people. By disclosing aspects of my life, I never wanted to talk about it, I have connected with people and I hear about direct links to this subject. There are a lot of people with very tender spots that they may not be able to expose, but I can.
You feature a variety of real people in the film, from sex workers to family members and celebrities, and what stands out is that the people have more in common than they realize.
I’ve heard the phrase “terminal uniqueness” to mean that feeling of having been the only person to experience something, but guess what, you probably aren’t. We all carry our souls on social media, so why not use this tide of will to speak out to look compassionately at our society and who is vulnerable? If we care about feminism, racism, capitalism or the environment, it is relevant. Sex workers are so often the canaries in the coal mine.
What I want to see is where we have these colossal double standards and ridiculous moralizing. I remember Julia Roberts wearing those thigh-high boots in A pretty woman; I thought it was great, it’s now a Broadway show, it’s so wholesome. We don’t have the right to have butter and butter money, romanticize abstract ideas to titillate ourselves, and then send women to prison for sex work. I’m not advocating for legalization or decriminalization or against those things, but I’m preparing a buffet and offering everyone some food.
How did you decide which part of your own life you were comfortable sharing on camera?
I’ve decided that honesty degrees don’t work for me. There is discernment, but for me, I have to be willing to accept the possibility of someone doing the deepest Google search ever and finding whatever scares me. But if I said it before, it takes the power out of this situation. I was desperate to tell this story because the women I sat with went through hell; if they can go through what they’ve been through to be made public as sex workers or survivors, then i can define myself beyond my fears that people won’t like me.
How is making this movie different for you to play Sell/Buy/Date on the scene?
I knew to play Sell/Buy/Date one show at a time was unsustainable for me. It’s an endlessly demanding practice and I can only do it in short bursts. The hope is that this conversation can actually help people, so I would love a lot more people who aren’t just well-heeled theatergoers to get involved in this project. I first tried a TV project, and learned that I could do it, but a mainstream TV network was not the place. The good news is that I know how to do the TV show and I have a plan to take the concept of Sell/Buy/Date and use it. I was approached for a podcast and a TV show, and I want to do those things. My characters represent a Greek chorus of opinions; I like to hear my characters bicker. What I really mean is, instead of calling people, can we call them? We have to occupy this space together and what we are doing now is not sustainable.
Adam Rathe is City & Countryassistant director for feature films, covering arts and culture and a range of other subjects.