An Interview With Hanne Larsen, The College-Aged Director Of 'The Sex Myth'
In 2015, feminist journalist Rachel Hills published The Sex Myth: The Gap Between Our Fantasies and Reality—a book that questions the sexual norms and expectations with which younger generations have been raised. In 2016, Northeastern University student Hanne Larsen adapted the book into a work of devised theater. Now Hills and director Dana Edell want to bring Larsen’s theatrical vision of the book to campuses across the country.
Larsen recently talked to the FBomb about her experience as a female director and creative, and why this show is an important part of dispelling the “sex myth.”
Let's start at the beginning. How did you first find The Sex Myth and what inspired you to adapt it into a show?
I attended Rachel Hills’s workshop “Let’s Talk About The Sex Myth” at Northeastern University in the fall of 2015. The workshop really excited me because it was the first time I realized that it was possible to talk about sex and sex positivity in a public space. The unspoken rules of hook-up culture, it turned out, were norms that I could choose to follow or not follow. After reading Hill’s book, The Sex Myth, sex and the culture that surrounds it became more dynamic to me.
What inspired me to adapt The Sex Myth into a show was the fact that it had so deeply inspired me and changed my outlook. I wanted to share this experience with others in a different medium. I was taking a devised theater course in the spring, and realized that the book would adapt well to that theatre form.
What do you think expressing the ideas of The Sex Myth in the format of "devised theater" conveyed or accomplished that the written format alone couldn't?
In devised theater, the show is created through the collaboration of the cast and crew, rather than from a fixed script created by a single author. I chose this format because it allowed us to mirror the same highly individual and personal stories that are in Rachel’s book—except this time, we drew upon the experiences of our cast. It didn’t make sense to me to write a script adapting the book because the actors who were in the piece had their own powerful stories to tell.
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about college students (or young people in general) and sex/sexuality? How does the show address that?
I think the biggest misconception about college students (and/or young people in general—and I want to specify this is from the perspective of Western culture as well) and sex and sexuality is that everyone is doing it and that everyone is “liberated.” Everything and everyone—from party culture to the media we consume to depictions of women in that media—is sexualized in our culture. But not everyone is having sex all the time, and even when they are, they are not all having the same kind of sex across the board.
The devised piece that I directed addressed this by having the actors express their sexual experiences through vulnerable, powerful monologues—each of which was different because no sex life is the same. Furthermore, we had vignettes that dealt with other situations, like characters who chose not to have sex or were having kinky sex (although their friends had assumed otherwise because they looked like the “type” who would have “boring” sex).
You also held talkbacks after each performance. Why did you do that and how did audiences react? What did you learn from them?
I knew that after the audience watched our performance, we would need to talk! So many ideas and topics are dealt with in the show and all were worthy of further investigation, and because the performance was so personal, I wanted to create an opportunity for mutual sharing between the audience and cast. Allowing space for a conversation and for the piece to continue to resonate—and allowing the audience to respond—was imperative.
These conversations taught me that I needed to initially make it clearer that the stories presented in the show were true. Usually audience members wouldn’t realize this until the middle of the show, at which point they would become even more captivated by the performance. I also learned that through the piece, audiences discovered how the Sex Myth showed up in their lives, saw the importance of speaking honestly about sex, and, most importantly, realized that we are not alone in our experiences.
What was the experience of creating this show like—for you, as a director (especially a female director), as well as the performers? Did anything surprise you? Change you?
The experience of creating this show changed the way I see myself as an artist: I feel capable, accomplished. My confidence in the subject of sex and my belief in myself grew. I can talk about sex positivity much more openly now and I believe that I can touch people’s lives by sharing with them my experiences. In doing so, sharing changes me and them.
What surprised me is how the piece turned out—raw, exciting, and powerful. Truthfully, I had no idea what it would look like. But I still see the fruits of my efforts even today: I see how the people with whom I worked and the show’s audiences are now more empowered and aware of how the Sex Myth plays into their lives. Especially as a female director, I found it so empowering to bring people together and facilitate a conversation and education about a vulnerable and sometimes very tough subject.
What do you hope audiences ultimately take away from this show?
I hope that audiences can find a sense of relief knowing that they are not alone and that they do not have to be pressured to behave in certain ways sexually. I also hope that they can find the power in themselves to speak about sex.
The Sex Myth: A Devised Play will be showing in New York City this summer. You can purchase tickets and learn how you can bring the show to your community here.
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