Sex Workers' Opera lets escorts, webcam performers and strippers tell their stories through performance and music

The sex workers will take to the stage tomorrow night to share their experiences, both good and bad. Frankie Mullin discovers why they're finding their voice

The conflict-ridden and controversial have long been rich territory for artists. As such, sex work, in various guises, is often a central theme. But despite a long-standing relationship between sex work and opera – courtesans feature regularly in opera, from Madame Butterfly to Manon – any contemporary pairing seems, at first glance, to be a clashing of worlds.

"We knew that putting the words 'sex worker' and 'opera' together would grab people's attention," says Sex Workers' Opera co-producer Alex Etchart of the Experimental Experience theatre company's new project, which lets sex workers tell their stories through performance and music.

The Sex Workers' Opera, the brainchild of Clouds Haberberg, who is co-founder of the feminist opera company Better Strangers Opera, has been buoyed by the Goldsmiths Annual Fund, supported by the Royal Opera House and funded in part on Kickstarter. The opera will be performed tonight by sex workers and their allies, the former guaranteed anonymity by the fact that no one will reveal to which group they belong.

"The production isn't a linear story, but a journey through the various experiences of sex workers, asking audiences to challenge their stereotypes," says co-director Siobhan Knox. "We wanted to make a bridge between some of the least-represented members of society and some of its most established, respected – and often orthodox – institutions."

In fact, the Sex Worker's Opera isn't strictly operatic and will include elements of grime, hip-hop, spoken word and jazz. The Royal Opera House – the most established of institutions – is on board in an advisory role and has subsidised a training programme for the directors.

The group cites Bertolt Brecht as inspiration, a man whose 1928 Threepenny Opera not only took aim at capitalism but was performed by people recently released from concentration camps; similarly allowing the usually voiceless to tell their own story.

Charlotte Rose, a sex worker based in Exeter, is taking part. "People believe all my job involves is opening my legs," she says. "I'd like them to see the other side of it: the business skills I use, the times I've looked after clients who are sick, the fact that I'm passionate about what I do."

The cast includes escorts, webcam performers and strippers. Key to the group's mission is that diverse experiences be represented, and the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters movement in Taiwan is involved.

Toby* is an independent sex worker from London. He will be performing in the opera anonymously. "I got into sex work after hitting a hard spot financially," he says. "I didn't find it the horrible, disempowering experience I was expecting, though. Quite the opposite."

Through the opera, Toby wants to share his experiences of bonding with clients and his insights into why people use escorts. "Hopefully, we'll reach people who've never thought about sex workers before," he says. "I want to put on something quality that really slaps people around the head."

However, the directors are aware that not all sex workers' experiences are rosy and that those signing up to perform may not be representative of the whole industry. "Though we have reached out, we've had to come to terms with the fact that those for whom sex work was not a choice may not want to take part," Knox says. "That's why the call-out for diverse experiences is so important in balancing the stories told on stage."

Outspoken about sex workers' rights, with a recent spot on Channel 4's Love For Sale under her belt, Rose will be one of the few sex workers in the opera who feels able to confirm her identity. Like others involved in the project, Rose says the initial workshops – during which sex workers faced the challenge not only of discussing personal issues but of performing on stage – was intense and sometimes emotional.

"The workshops were such a safe environment and people were able to be honest," she says. "I'm glad we've got the chance to voice our views. I've never had an opportunity to tell my stories like this before."

'The Sex Workers' Opera' is on tonight at The Courtyard Theatre, London N1;

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada