Research began with a Google Doc form with a simple prompt: ‘Talk to us about virginity.’ They shared it on Facebook, and ‘in three days,’ says Wain, ‘We got over 27000 words of response.’
When I lost my virginity, I was 18. I met him that day and really didn’t like him that much
They took those online submissions, which they now have over 300 of, and added to them a number of longer, in-person interviews with family and friends, sex-ed teachers, priests, an elderly woman who had sex with only one person in her life, and a victim of sexual assault. They gathered comments from a subreddit where people go to help each other lose their virginity, and a series of sex-ed guidelines from the US Department of Education.
Film was an important source, as well, Brett says. ‘Virginity has, in the media, been portrayed comically, in The Inbetweeners, and American Pie and things. It’s always lost in the most hilarious way possible. To contrast with darker scenes, we have actors lip syncing to some of these shows.’ If you’ve never thought about Fifty Shades of Grey’s treatment of its (initially) virginal heroine, Cherry presents a hilarious opportunity.
After about four months of gathering quotes, Brett and Wain turned their sources into scenes. ‘At first we just came up with moments we were quite interested in representing,’ Wain explains, ‘So we had this Reddit scene, this scene about sex education, a religious scene.’ Brett adds. ‘Once we had the first draft of the script, we took each chunk and asked “what does this scene say in a sentence?” And we did that for the entire script and asked “Does this read as a paragraph?” If it flows, we thought, that works, because we have a through line.’
The show progresses rapidly through this paragraph, rarely spending more than five minutes on a scene. One moment involves a woman being manipulated into giving, and then abused for surrendering, her virginity, delivered by a member of the cast sitting cross-legged, lit largely by the faint glow of fairy lights. Those kinds of stories are important to Brett and Wain, because they’re the ones no one likes to admit to.
Both directors discuss the pressure around virginity and the losing thereof, and the way it impacts young people. Brett says ‘When I lost my virginity, I was 18. I met him that day and really didn’t like him that much, but I knew if I didn’t do it then, I might not have it done by uni.’
For Wain, the gossip and discussion of sex lives got to her. ‘I was at an all girl’s school. I never felt like it bothered me, but when I was about to go to uni I felt like it was a really big deal. I know now that’s quite a universal thing.’The directors say that the pressure, guilt and resentment that can surround those labeled virgin keeps them from entering their sexual lives in a way that helps them find pleasure and fulfillment. And it’s a useless label. Brett reads from his script: ‘We’ve got a nice quote. This is my mum, hilariously. “Surely not being a virgin is about having the power and knowledge and freedom to explore sexual pleasure. No one loses their virginity. You don’t lose anything. You gain experience.”'
Elliot Brett was able to talk to his mum about her experiences of virginity. Surely we can start talking to each other.
Cherry runs from the 9th to the 26th in the Space @ Venue 45. Check times at: http://broadwaybaby.com/shows/cherry/721729