Sexquisite Events is the events company you should know about, especially if youâ€™re a pole dancer: platforming sex worker voices and raising awareness about rights in the sex industry, they hold a variety of wild and wonderful cabaret, theatre, and party nights. And the next one is coming to a venue near you this week! This is my interview with the founders, who tell me everything about Sexquisite, its history and their next events.
Sexquisite is the brainchild of Maedb Joy and Carmen Ali, co-directors of the events company.
Maedb initially founded Sexquisite as a celebratory cabaret and club night platforming sex worker artists. Carmen hosted the first event and then fully came on board a year later, and helped develop Sexquisite into a fully-fledged events and theatre company.
Maedb (@maedbjoy on IG), is a poet, theatre maker, actor and writer. She trained at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where she graduated with First Class Honours and a nomination for the Evening Standard Future Theatre Fund in the Devising category. Making political work across poetry and theatre, her work has been featured by The BBC, The Barbican and Institute of Contemporary Arts.
Carmen Ali aka April Fiasco (@harlotgoddess on IG) isÂ a comedian, actor, burlesque artist, writer, and regular performer on the London cabaret and comedy scene. She is also a co-organiser of socialist strip club Cybertease, which exploded on the scene during the pandemic. She has been featured by The BBC, The Guardian, TimeOut, Vice Magazine, and Novara Media, and in 2021 she was selected to be part of Soho Comedy Plus Labs.
Sexquisite Eventsâ€™ history
Sexquisite was born during Maedbâ€™s second year at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, on the pop-up performance module. As part of her assignments, she decided to create an event that platformed sex work artists and brought the audience and artists closer through performance with a Q&A discussion.
â€œThe idea came to me out of rage,â€ she says, â€œbecause I was incredibly angry at the FOSTA/SESTA bill that was being passed in the States.â€ The bill is largely responsible for the worldwide censorship of sex workers and anyone sex work adjacent (e.g. pole dancers, sex educators, erotic artists etc.). She adds: â€œI had a previous history of working in the industry, but I had no community and I had no idea even if there would be sex workers who were also artists out there.â€
Luckily, there were: â€œLo and behold: my first callout was made on Word, which I screen-shotted – it was so bad! – but I put it on Facebook and then the lovely Carmen Ali got in touch, and we met up.â€
Maedb was 21, bushy-eyed and full of energy. They met at a coffee shop, where Carmen gave Maedb advice on running the event, came up with the name Sexquisite, and offered to host the show. â€œI was so excited!â€ Maedb says, â€œI couldn’t believe my luck, I already have so many people cheering me on, and an unofficial mentor really supporting me. So it only felt right to continue.â€
Sexquisite Events has continued to grow ever since, with Carmen coming on board as a co-artistic director. â€œWe work so well together. We really believe in making change for our community, and in platforming sex worker voices and stories and giving sex workers access to opportunities,â€ the team say.
Sexquisiteâ€™s approach to changing stigma against sex workers
Sexquisite exists in an extremely fraught political and labour scenario where sex workersâ€™ lives and livelihoods are currently under threat across the board. In the United Kingdom, strippers in Edinburgh successfully crowdfunded for legal fees to challenge the local councilâ€™s strip club ban; inÂ Blackpool, the council announced a strip club banÂ to make the city more â€œfamily friendlyâ€; in Bristol, the local council also tried to ban strip clubsÂ through an â€œopen consultationâ€ pushed by womenâ€™s rights groups that donâ€™t seem to take into account sex workersâ€™ rights.Â The consultation has been going on for over a year, putting Bristol strippersâ€™ lives on hold, but luckily 86% Bristolians showed strong support for strippersâ€™ places of work, and strip clubs in the city for now live to fight another day… until the council make a decision on workersâ€™ future.
Now wish me luck for trying to condense this into a 1 minute speech ðŸ¤ª thanks @BristolCouncil for being so generous with the amount of time you allocate us to defend our livelihoods ðŸ’– anyway see u on Thursday pic.twitter.com/Uceu8skpO1— AmÃ©lie ðŸ¦‹ (@afrenchstripper) July 22, 2022
These are just some of the challenges facing strippers in Britain, but the working conditions for sex workers are dire across the board: for instance, by working with someone else in a flat a sex worker can be done for running a brothel, even if theyâ€™re are not there at the same time.
In this extremely unequal and stigmatised scenario, events companies like Sexquisite are crucial to change the publicâ€™s view on sex work. They say: â€œWe really believe in using art as a tool towards meaningful change.â€ They do this in different ways: theyâ€™re committed to offering sex workers paid creative work; they make art and performance that challenges the stigma and negative stereotyps of sex work, they mentor sex worker performers who want to perform but have never been onstage before, and they also crowdfund and raise funds for members of their community who need help with housing and other support systems.
Essentially, Sexquisite want to â€œhave an impact on societal change on a personal and political level, even if that’s just starting in a conversation.â€
What can you expect from a Sexquisite Event?
What happens at Sexquisite? Usually, the show is presented by Carmen in her cabaret persona April Fiasco, who holds it together introducing the acts, doing jokes in between, and usually performing a burlesque act herself. Audience members can buy tipping dollars to tip performers and show their support to the incredible line-up of sex worker artists on the night.
However, Sexquisiteâ€™s nights arenâ€™t just fun: theyâ€™re educational, incredibly varied and deeply embedded within sex workersâ€™ culture and history. Take their recent spring 2022 Bishopsgate Institute event, where the Sexquisite team were commissioned to go through the Instituteâ€™s historical archives.
April says: â€œIn the archives, we read all about the history of sex work, about how the laws haven’t really changed that much and how a lot of sex workers of colour are excluded from history.â€ So Sexquisite created a cabaret show based on real-life sex workersâ€™ experiences featuring many performers, including Black Venus (@blackvenusinfurs on IG), Betty (@femme.castratrice on IG) and Samantha Sun from the East London Strippers Collective (@samantha.ssun on IG).
â€œThe show was a great way to make history accessible and entertaining, so we had some funny elements, but we also had some more serious bits about how sex workers throughout history have been murdered and forgotten,â€ say the Sexquisite team, adding that â€œIt was very interesting that we were finding out history and also making history at the same time with our work as an artist collective.â€
â€œBeing invited by the Bishopsgate Institute and Guildhall School of Music & Drama to create work as a collective was incredible and we were so grateful for the opportunity. Itâ€™s a real milestone of achievement that two big institutions wanted to platform sex worker artists, but at the same time we did critique the concept of asking sex workers to perform their trauma and the trauma that sex workers have experienced historically. We had a circus version of WAP by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion and danced to that, to highlight how sex workers are so often put on display and treated voyeuristically even when we are being offered paid artistic opportunities.â€Sexquisite Events
Other Sexquisite Events include Sexquisite Intimate, which debuted at Rich Mix in Shoreditch in May, based on the idea of platforming theatre and poetry from sex worker artists. For their first event they had the playwright Joana Nastari, who presented a reimagined version of her iconic Fuck You, Pay Me play. Audiences were invited to lie down to listen to the audio version of the play, along with poetry, comedy, and music performances.
At Intimate, Sexquisite Events showcased both sex workers and non sex worker artists, in order to bridge the gap between communities. â€œWhile our cabaret shows are bigger and showier, on a big stage and very celebratory, these shows were much more relaxing – everyone was lying on yoga mats with little fake candles, it was more like being at home in your living room than on a night out!â€
The Sexquisite team seem to be getting no sleep, since they also wrote their very own play, $tripped! Set in a strip club and following four characters that work there, $tripped! focuses on their individual struggles, and how they come together against stigma, exploitative strip club bosses, and whorephobia. They did it as a work in progress at The Glory in March 2022, where the event was sold-out and received a standing ovation and a 5 star review! The team have applied to take it to the VAULT Festival in 2023 (as it was originally programmed for February 2022, but VAULT was cancelled this year).
Letâ€™s all keep our fingers crossed they will be programmed again because they describe $tripped! as a play featuring â€œmagic realism, burlesque, dance, poetry, inviting audiences into the world of strippers â€“ their challenges and their winsâ€ and I need to see this!
Who can apply to perform at Sexquisite events?
â€œAnyone who has worked in sex industry is welcome to apply,â€ say the Sexquisite Founders. â€œYou don’t need to have had any previous performance experience, we want Sexquisite to be an accessible space, and we’ve had many people start their performing journeys with us.â€
To apply, just go to the link in their bio and complete the Google form. They have shows happening every month and hopefully you will make the cut! But what if youâ€™re not a sex worker?
â€œWe do sometimes have shows where we have allies performing who are not sex workers. Weâ€™re looking for DJs, poets, dancers, actors, comedians, visual artists and particularly keen to programme LGBTQIA+ artists.â€ So if this is you, time to get in touch!
Book Sexquisiteâ€™s next Cabaret
Calendars and wallets at the ready: itâ€™s time to book your tickets for Sexquisiteâ€™s next, unmissable Cabaret (that Iâ€™ll sadly be missing because Iâ€™m working from Sardinia). Sexquisite Cabaret! will be held on July 28th at Bethnal Green Working Menâ€™s Club and it will feature a fantastic line-up of multi-talented, powerful sex workers.
â€œIt will be a night out that you won’t forget! We are showcasing an array of incredible sex worker artists from burlesque dance and circus to poetry and comedy â€“ and fire, and more,â€ say the founders, who add: â€œWe are really dedicated to changing the stigma around sex work, and battling sex worker discrimination through these events.â€
Amongst the amazing acts planned there will be Maedbâ€™s own poetry set and Aprilâ€™s very own take on OnlyFans shamers. She says: â€œI’m gonna do my OnlyFans act, which is a political â€˜sing and flingâ€™ act about how people shame those who do online sex work, how that needs to stop,and how we need to love our bodies and not be ashamed of being naked.â€
The whole line-up is, indeed, star-studded. From resident DJ, DJ Pollyanna (@djpollyanna), a veteran of London queer nights whoâ€™s been with Sexquisite since the beginning, to my friend and badass activist Rebecca Crow (@katsandcrows), from music by Natalie and the Monarchy (@natalieandthemonarchy)from Sexquisiteâ€™s Manchester show to pole dance by Baby Chloe (@bxby.777) and Ally from (@cybertease_), and Black Venus (@blackvenuinfurs) all the way to Sex and Rage, the founders are right in saying the night will be â€œon fireâ€.
The Cabaret will end with an after party until 1:00 AM, so you know you want to book! Tickets cost Â£13-15 and can be bought here.
What should pole dancers in particular take away from Sexquisite Events?
The Sexquisite team say theyâ€™ve found the pole dance community to be usually really supportive of sex workers, through sharing and attending their shows and raising awareness about their battles. Thatâ€™s amazing, they say, although theyâ€™ve been disappointed to see that thereâ€™s a small amount of people in the industry who really want to distance themselves from stripping – even though that is where pole dancing came from.
â€œYou can’t ignore the marginalised group that created this art form,â€ says April, â€œSo I don’t want to see #notastripper ever again. It doesn’t matter if you’re a stripper or not, you don’t need to say that. If you enjoy pole dancing and you’re not a sex worker, that is completely fine but don’t shit on sex workers in the process.â€ April adds:
â€œI think some people just donâ€™t realise that stripping is really hard. Itâ€™s not just the pole dancing: thereâ€™s a chat element to it – you literally have to talk to people, encourage them to spend money – then you have to dance on the stage, then hopefully you do lots of private dances and then you pay the house fee to work there, even though you may have not gotten paid much that night.â€Sexquisite Events
Here, April is referring to the fact that, in the UK, strippers have to pay an upfront house fee to the club theyâ€™re working in before they can even earn anything. Sometimes, if itâ€™s a quiet night, they might make a loss. You can learn more about it through Gemma Roseâ€™s blog here.
â€œDancing is great and it’s amazing to be able to have those skills,â€ April adds â€œbut the skill of being a stripper is far more than that – it’s a whole way of thinking, it’s a whole hustle that some pole dancers just have no idea about.â€ She perfectly illustrates the difference between sex workersâ€™ and hobbyistsâ€™ relationship with pole dance:
â€œYou come in and you do what might be physically the hardest part of the job, but you’ve taken the mentally easiest part of the job and turned that into your Instagram lifestyleâ€¦ while not only do we have to hustle, we also have to face the threat of our places of work being closed down. So give strippers a bit more respect and credit. Pole dancers should really come to strip clubs and see what we do.â€Sexquisite events
So, if youâ€™re a pole dancer, consider coming to Sexquisite to, in Aprilâ€™s words, â€œcome and see people from the community who created pole dancing doing pole dancing on a stage and getting paid for it.â€
The future of Sexquisite Events
So whatâ€™s next for Sexquisite Events? â€œWorld domination,â€ the team say, and I very much hope theyâ€™re right!
They will be continuing to have their monthly cabaret shows in London from September, along with a show in Manchester at the end of September. They will also be launching Club Sexquisite again, so keep your eyes peeled for the companyâ€™s events.
- Cabaret, Intimate, and $tripped! pics taken by @celestethehooker on IG
- Bishopsgate pics taken by @christaholkastudio on IG