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It's both Sprinkle's shock value and sincerity that sell out her performances. Her fearless, matter-of-fact acceptance of sexuality reduces even the most reticent members of her consistently diverse audiences to laughter, even to tears. That is, if they make it to intermission. "The first half can make some people very uncomfortable," she says, "because it's extreme and visceral. I tell them to breathe through it." In the second half of Herstory, there's a noticeable shift to a more holistic perspective. "It's about aging, the body, relationships between male and female, personal change and growth," Sprinkle says. "I think a lot of people will relate to my story, especially women, because a lot of us have gone through a similar evolution."
She stopped counting her own personal sexual encounters at 3,500, Sprinkle says. "I got into porn at 17, after a very short string of menial jobs, like hanging wallpaper and working on construction projects." Of course, she did have sex with most of the guys on the site. "I was wild. I was a young hippie in Tucson, Arizona." Her next job found her selling popcorn at a porn theater showing the classic Deep Throat. The theater was raided, and Sprinkle wound up in a courtroom testifying in the resulting obscenity trial. She met the film's director in court, and the rest, as she says, is "herstory."
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"I really like sex, and I really like the creative part of film-making," she says. "But I never set out to be political."
"I'm not sure I agree with that," says Tim Johnson, producer for Kitchen Dog Theater, the MAC's resident troupe. Johnson's personal devotion to performance art got Sprinkle, and equally controversial writer-performer-gay activist Tim Miller, on stage in Dallas. "I think her work is inherently political. She's definitely challenging the preconceptions we have about sexuality, and that's a touchy issue." Like it or not, adds Johnson, in America's puritanical but sexually saturated society, anyone who celebrates sex becomes political. "Her goal is not to offend or shock, but she's about as controversial as you can get."
For more than a decade, Sprinkle has changed her own definition of the provocative performance. "What I do now is provocative in the sense that you'll probably leave the theater discussing it with your friends," she says. "I use porn to illustrate a whole personal evolution, but it's also very much a social evolution." Sprinkle apologizes for philosophizing before she says, "It's very funny, and you get free popcorn." She gets her audiences talking, and wherever she performs, she makes good copy. A review in The Village Voice said she gives new meaning to the term "revolutionary ardor." Playgirl called her a "porn star turned slut professor."
Johnson says Sprinkle is one of the few divas of performance art. As part of his programming strategy to bring more of an art form rarely found in Dallas to the MAC stage, he made it his mission to book her latest road show.
"I don't think people here know what to expect from performance art," he says. "I think they may expect bad personal narrative or something. My goal is to create an interest in performance by bringing in nationally recognized talent, and then expand into lesser-known, and maybe local, artists."
Sprinkle says she's anxious to see how Dallas responds to her, but the MAC may be the last stop on the tour that tells of a lifelong journey from porn pioneer to sexual healer. "I'm on the road one or two weeks every month," she says, "so I may take a break. But I think for the rest of my life, I'll be exploring sexuality in the media."
Johnson has one more warning for prospective audience members: "If you think you're going to be offended, you shouldn't come. If you're not comfortable with sex, it's not the thing for you."
For the MAC run, Johnson says, the theater will be particularly sensitive to some of Sprinkle's biggest fans. The Thursday-night show is being billed as "Womyn's Night!" for women only (and men dressed as women). At the Sunday matinee, prostitutes, exotic dancers, and adult-video-store employees can get discount tickets.
Too bad Sprinkle isn't planning a discount night for "Famous Talk Show Hosts Who Don't Know Where The Clitoris Is." Certainly Lisa Ling could get a backstage pass.
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