I Iove a good sex survey, so when I arrived with my friend Denise to a preview of the play My First Time,we eagerly filled out the questionnaire left on each seat in the theater: Are you a virgin? How old were you when you lost your virginity? Where were you? What was your partner's first name? Do you still keep in touch? Did you feel pressured by anyone to lose your virginity? Did you plan your first time? Did you use contraception? How would you describe your first time? Afterward, we swapped cards and read each other's answers before an usher collected them from us.
My First Time (myfirsttimetheplay.com), which opened July 28 at New World Stages, is billed as "a play in the style of The Vagina Monologues," where four actors share both brief snippets and detailed stories about first-time sexual experiences without costume changes, props, or sets. The stories are culled from more than 40,000 posts on myfirsttime.com, a website launched in 1998 by Peter Foldy and Craig Paddock. The duo originally created the site to do research for a teen-movie script they were working on, and it quickly became a phenomenon. Ken Davenport, who adapted the play from the site and produced and directed it, told me, "I've clipped things out and fixed some grammar, but otherwise not a single word has been changed."
The stories range from funny and touching to sweet, sexy, and silly to downright disturbing. In fact, the darker talesof date rape, coercion, and incestare the most complex and compelling. "It's one of the very few things that almost every single person has experienced no matter where you come from or where you live," says Davenport. "To me, it's a unifying experience. But for so many reasons, it is one we rarely talk about." He has clearly made a conscious effort to represent a fair amount of diversity, with stories from both straight and queer voices of different ages, backgrounds, and abilities. The two men and two women in the cast embody the imagined identities behind the very personal postings with skill and grace. One actor, Josh Heine, was so convincing in both his recounting of the first time with his cousin's pretty friend in a basement on a pile of laundry and the first time with a boy he sat next to on the bus ride home from school that I left the theater questioning his sexuality. I was struck by the range of feelings and emotions on display in the narratives: love, hate, lust, curiosity, ambivalence, anger, confusion, denial, anxiety, and hopeall of which we still can experience through sex beyond that first go around.
The most crafty and powerful part of the play was the juxtaposition of two stories: One is by a sweet high schooler telling the story of his girlfriend going to the prom with the boy her parents hope will be her future husband, the bishop's son. The bishop's son rapes her in a car and leaves her bruised on the side of the road. The other is told by a sleazy bartender played with a brilliant mix of subtlety and terror by Bill Dawes. The bartender gets his friend's girlfriend drunk and high and fucks her, even though she clearly says no. This play has the potential to make people not only reflect on their first time, but to see what complicated terrain sex can be. "I thought it would attract a hip young crowd, but the audiences are much more diverse than I expected," says Davenport. "I have seen families with their teenage daughters, all filling out the survey side by side. Hopefully, the play will start a discussion between parents and kids."
As for those blue survey cards: They were incorporated into the performance in a clever way. Among various statistics that flashed on a big screen (like "In the United States, the average age of a person's first sexual experience is 15.8."), the unique numbers for our audience's collective maiden voyages appeared. Seven percent of my audience felt pressured their first time. A little over 23 percent keep in touch with their first sexual partner (my friend Denise said she sometimes sees hers around town), and 47.1 percent used contraception. That last statistic floored me. I looked around the theater and realized there weren't a lot of people younger than 30 there, so perhaps it was generational, but still! I do love the idea that each night will be different and that the cast and crew will get to see and document all of it.
As soon as someone quickly tallied numbers to produce statistics, the batch of blue cards were handed out to the actors who read from them at various points throughout the rest of the show. By far the best part of this was the section where they read answers to the question, "If your first sexual partner were here right now, what would you say to him/her?"
"One word: foreplay."
"I still get a hard-on when I hold your hand, after 47 years."
"Give me the child support you owe me; it's $70,000."
"I lost my virginity to you; did you know that?"
Then: "The sex was consensual, so why did you sue me and my family?"
Seeing the show made me nostalgic about my first time, which was a sweet experience overall, despite some nervousness, awkwardness, and pain. I long to share the details about my experience, which remain pretty vivid even now. It happened when I was 16 during an affair I had with someone older and in a position of power; it was a relationship some people might think was unethical on his part. Even now, 20 years later, I would not want 'my first' to get into trouble or have his career jeopardized. The only ones who know some of the details are those two hundred people in the cast, crew, and audience the night I saw the show. Of course, they don't know which of the details are mine.
Just as a range of experience was represented through the script, that same spectrum was mirrored by the audience. I asked Davenport if anything has been written on the cards that has surprised him thus far. "Maybe it's because we live in a jaded city, but I'm not surprised by the really ugly ones. I have been caught off guard by just how many people's first times involved lots of alcohol. I guess what shocks me most is when an audience member says, 'I am sitting next to the person I had my first time with.' "
For more of Tristan Taormino's work, visit Puckerup.com.
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