Amelia Pitcher Wants More Sex Workers to Write Their Own Stories

My seventh Sydney Fringe interview is my favourite yet. I got to chat to writer/actress Amelia Pitcher, whose writing debut Poles: The Science of Magnetic Attraction is coming to Sydney fresh from its successful run at Edinburgh Fringe, where she was long-listed for the BBC Writersroom Popcorn New Writing Award. We spoke about Edinburgh, misconceptions about strip clubs, and why sex workers should be writing their own stories.

Please note, interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.


Tell me about Poles—what is about and why did you write it?

I wrote Poles last year. It started out as little anecdotes and snippets in my notes app that I’d wrote down after work. I worked as a stripper for a few months back in 2017, and my experience was so different to how I’d seen it portrayed in the media.

The media narrative (surrounding strip clubs) is really traumatic and grotty and everyone’s sad and broke and can’t afford their rent and all the customers are really creepy, and it just wasn’t the case at all. It was shocking how inaccurate that portrayal was, versus what it was actually like.

So many funny things were happening and, I’d have these really strange encounters with people, and I’d write them down because I was like “I need to remember this—you can’t write this shit, it’s so good.” And then after my third year of drama school, I turned it into this three-hander. And then last year I went back to it and said “No, this can be a one-woman play”.

I was having all these conversations with friends about the sex industry and stripping. And if it ever came to light that I’d done it, people were quite judgemental, or they didn’t really understand it. A lot of people were fine with it, but I was having a lot of conversations where a lot of the stigma was coming out.

I had a lot of conversations with people who really disagreed with the sex industry and thought it shouldn’t exist. And I’m like—but, you haven’t even experienced it! You don’t know anyone in it, you’ve never had a conversation with them! That’s just an opinion that is based off nothing—off media and stereotypes. All the conversations with men in the play about stripping genuinely happened. Some of them are word for word, which is really funny.

So, I was dealing with that (conflict) with myself. I was like—I know I want to write this, but do I want to own that label for myself? Like “I used to strip”, then everyone would know. But I was thinking—actually, no, that’s exactly what I want to combat with this play. I want to fight that attitude.

The urge to hide it, because of the stigma?

Yeah! I don’t want to feel like it’s something I need to be ashamed of.

Has this show been performed before?

We premiered it in Melbourne in 2021, and then we then took it to Adelaide Fringe in February, and then we took it to Edinburgh, and it all went really well.

And you’re playing at Sydney Fringe this week, and then we’ve got Melbourne Fringe?

Yep, this week Sydney, then next is Melbourne, and then we’ve also got Brisbane Fringe which is from the 3rd to the 6th of November.

And these tickets are on sale?

Yes, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are all on sale now.

And then after Brisbane, any plans for it?

I’m hoping to take it back to London. We were long-listed for the BBC Writersroom Popcorn New Writing Award at Edinburgh Fringe. And that’s opened up a lot of opportunities, and incredible talks with people. So hopefully that will be on in London, either the end of the year or early next year.

Was it always the plan for you to act in this?

Yeah! So, I trained as an actor. I never really saw myself as a writer initially. Like, if Covid hadn’t happened, I don’t know if I would have been writing as much.

I ended up back home in Brisbane in the middle of my third year of drama school. The industry had kind of shut down. So I thought: “Fuck it. I’ll just write a bunch of stuff that I can make when things open up again.”

And that’s when I started writing again. It was mostly short films and stuff like that, all of which are like terrible, genuinely terrible. But, I feel like, you have to own being bad at something before you can be good at it.

I said: “I’m going to start writing, and everything I’m going to write is going to be so bad, but I just need to get it all out the way. I’m just going keep doing it until I find something that’s okay.” And that’s what I did.

Would you have considered yourself a writer before this? Or is Poles your first piece of writing?

Poles is the first piece of writing that I’m really proud of. I would say it kind of defines my style as a writer.

So, this is your indie theatre writing debut?

Yeah, this is my playwriting debut. I haven’t written a play before this one.

That’s incredibly impressive that the first play you wrote has done this national tour and gone to Edinburgh.  

Yeah, generally if I do anything, it’s all or nothing. It’s 0% or its 110%.

You mentioned that your experience working as a stripper was the starting off point for writing Poles.

Absolutely.

Is “autobiographical” the right word? Is Cora you? Or is it more about anecdotes that your experience inspired?

I really like taking a stereotype that we know and that we’re familiar with and then finding what’s human in there— I really like doing that in my writing.

A lot of what Cora says is what I wish I would’ve said in a lot of scenarios. It’s the things that went through my head, but then I wasn’t confident enough to say them. She’s kind of this rude, self-obsessed, large, loud character.

Who would you say is the ideal audience for your show?

Oh— young people come and watch! It’s a show by young people for young people.

Also, more specifically, anyone who has worked in the sex industry— even online work like Only Fans—they’ll understand it. It’s funny for everyone but those people will understand the humour because they’ve experienced that.

Why should people come see your show?

Because sex work and sex workers are still so stigmatised. The industry is so frowned upon by a lot of people, and even legally—a lot of the laws across Australia are still so harmful to sex workers.

Hearing stories from the sex industry, by people who’ve experienced the sex industry, is a key part of dismantling the stereotypes and the stigma that we have about it. And in doing that kind of stuff on a socio-political level, we then combat all of the legal stuff at the top.

We also donate 5% of our sales to peer support organizations. Decolonize Sex Work AU which is a Blak-led sex worker organization, that is fighting legal battles, but also supports a lot of sex workers if they are need of assistance or anything.

So, what you’re saying is it’s important to have sex workers, or people who’ve done sex work, writing these stories to make sure the industry is portrayed accurately?

Yep! And have people listen to that. When you listen to stories that are different to your own, you expand your own worldview.

What the play is trying to do is invite people to laugh at the narrative that they might hold in themselves about sex work. It’s looking at those views through a comedic lens and being like “actually, it’s kind of ridiculous that we think this about the sex industry”.

I think that’s the beauty of theatre— instead of attacking people and saying “You need to support sex work” you can invite them to observe the reality of the world, instead of the media stereotype. And so, you start to break down that stigma that we have a society about the sex industry.

Theatre is a safe way to experience things without actually experiencing them.


Poles: The Science of Magnetic Attraction is playing at the Seymour Centre Sound Lounge from 21st October to 24th October at 6pm. Tickets can be purchased here.

Interview conducted and edited by Jo Bradley.

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