Girl is shy and studious. Guy is rugged and sexy. Who better to bridge the divide and get these two together than an observant gay man who also happens to be an expert in the field of sex? That’s the premise of the aptly named show Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man, running May 4-7 at Alley Theatre. The play is the third production of Lott Entertainment Presents’ current season—part of that group’s ongoing effort to bring more avant-garde theater to Houston. We spoke with Matt Murphy, the producer behind productions such as Altar Boyz and Memphis, about his newest hit, talking sex on stage and the evolution of theater.
Sex Tips was originally a book, what made you think it would work on stage?
I knew that I wanted to put a faux sex tips seminar on stage. I was also one of the producers of Altar Boyz when it opened in New York and I liked the crowd interaction of that show. I wanted to do something similar but with actual, real sex advice. I was sharing this idea with my wife and she mentioned that there was this book that she and her friends had passed around in college called "Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man." It had been a major bestseller when it came out in ’97. I met the authors, Dan Anderson and Maggie Berman, and told them I wanted to capture their sense of humor and put it on stage. They loved it.
So is this show more for straight people or the gays?
I’d say it’s 50/50. A lot of gay men are in the audience and a lot of them are bringing their female friends as well. We’ve played Provincetown (Mass.) and had a sold out run there for a week, with a 90% gay audience the entire time. A lot of places we go on tour there aren’t a lot of performances for gay audiences, so we’re happy to fill that niche. I think that’s contributed to the success of the show. It attracts a wide variety of people, from all ages, sexualities and backgrounds.
Why do you think sex resonates as a topic in theater?
I think it’s that the taboo nature of what’s being discussed is shocking while at the same time revelatory to experience together with a group of friends and strangers…Our show does that for this topic in a really big way. What’s rewarding is that we break the ice for audiences, for their relationships and marriages. We give you the advice and the rest is up to you. Our hope is that even if people don’t try every single technique they are at least open to talking about what they’re seeing.
What surprises audiences about this show?
They really don’t expect a traditional story line at the center of this play. A lot of times they expect it to be a one-man show, when in fact it’s a three-character show set up like a romantic comedy. There’s a story for the audience to follow, there’s a good amount of audience participation and each of those participatory moments moves the story forward.
We have been so satisfied with the reaction that the show has received. When we started the tour we had no idea what to expect and we launched in Des Moines, Iowa of all places. Before we even got there the show was sold out and audiences ate it up. In fact, we’re going back to Des Moines for a three-week run! We’ve gotten a tremendously positive reaction in almost every market.
How are theater audiences, and theater itself, evolving as you see it?
Having an immediate, live performance is so different than how people consume entertainment these days. You watch an entire television series in two days and other media are at your fingertips on your phone. To go somewhere and close your phone and computer and share that experience with a lot of people who are doing the same thing—it’s become a rare ritual which I think makes the theatrical experience that much more profound and unique.
Sex Tips runs May 4-7 at Alley Theatre with two shows each night Thursday, Friday and Saturday and one show Sunday. Get 20% off tickets to the May 4, 9 pm show by clicking here.