Sex Worker Artist Interview

Nicole Henriksen

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“If you can make someone laugh, you can open their mind to hear your point of view, and if you can weave in a story as well, all the better.”

Nicole’s show 'Nicole Henriksen is Makin' It Rain' is showing at the King’s Head in London from 28th September - 7th October.

Get tickets here https://kingsheadtheatre.ticketsolve.com/shows/873580207

Tell us about your work!

My work 'Nicole Henriksen is Makin' It Rain' is my theatre debut after writing, producing, and performing solo comedy shows around Australia and the UK.

The main driving force behind Makin' It Rain, was the fact I would have long discussions with friends about my recent job as a stripper. I knew people would be curious, but I wasn’t prepared for just how curious they would be, how much the everyperson doesn't know about the sex work industry, how much that lack of information leads to stigma, and how easy it can be to break down those barriers by being honest, if the sex worker is comfortable being open. I also knew from these discussions with friends about my job in the sex work industry, that a show about stripping would have a lot of appeal to theatre-goers, especially during Fringe festivals, where punters are looking for edgier works.

Due to this intrigue, I knew the show couldn't be a comedy work, it couldn't be me presenting myself as a stand up, as I would when walking down the street, and telling some funny stories about my job, while adding one serious note. The show had to be a genuine theatre piece, a show in which I display my form as I would in the strip club, and I dissect the world of sex work, as well as mainstream society's concepts of gender, sexuality, relationships and image.

The show discusses a very personal side to my job, but also my own break down of common questions, though at no point do I attempt to speak on behalf of anyone else in the sex work industry, or even the performer community. It's my story and my views alone.

Within Makin' It Rain, I break up monologues which address frequently asked questions with strip teases to songs that capture the energy of that monologue, so as the show becomes more emotionally exposed, I am also physically exposed, while also demonstrating my physicality as a stripper, so the audience is unable to disconnect the stripper from the theatre performer.

'Nicole Henriksen Makin' It Rain' has toured to five festivals in Australia, as well as Edinburgh Fringe in the UK and it is coming to the King’s Head Theatre in London in the autumn!

What are your influences?

I'm not too sure. I started doing comedy as I was inspired by The Mighty Boosh, the physicality, whimsy, and use of multimedia sparked my interest in comedy. And I did bring some of those elements to Makin' It Rain, but in terms of theatre, I'm really more inspired by visual art or television, as I don't have a vast knowledge of theatre.

I have seen a handful of theatre shows during my time touring comedy to fringe festivals, and the best ones have left me with a feeling that they've generated a unique thought in my mind, which rattles around my head. That was my aim with Makin' It Rain, and judging by the feedback over numerous shows, this has been achieved, which I'm very proud of.

Why do you think sex worker led art is important?

Art led by any misunderstood group is important, and work by sex workers is vital. There's so much misinformation about the sex work industry as a whole, and I feel that education and inspiration are often the best ways to communicate with people in a genuine way, and connect on a human level.

I think stigma steams from a fear of unknown, which leads people to feel another person is so different to them, that the two of them couldn't possibly relate, so this other person is either not similar enough to even be considered human, or the task of relating is so daunting, the person doesn't even make an attempt.

But I find, if you can make someone laugh, you can open their mind to hear your point of view, and if you can weave in a story as well, all the better. And that is the framework for Makin' It Rain, for the purposes of engaging and hopefully informing the audience. That's why I feel sex worker-led art work is vital, because it has the potential to break through stigma and appeal to people in an honest truthful way.

What do you enjoy about being a sex worker artist?

I enjoy everything about being a sex worker artist! The sex work industry has taught me so much, and funded my art in a way almost no other job could. So being able to actually use my job to engage with people in conversations about feminism, rape culture, and body image is a special and unique thing.

What challenges do you find come up being a sex worker artist?

I don't know if there's been any challenges for me in terms of being a sex worker artist. I feel the opposite is the case. I've connected with so many more interested, educated, and exceedingly capable sex workers, performers, and those who are both, through my work and job.

The only thing I've found close to a challenge is a kind of sex worker erasure. Whether it's punters saying "I don't know if the show was really about you, but I liked it!", or journalists referring to me as an "ex-stripper" when I'd been shaking my arse for money mere days before. I find people still like to separate the performer from the sex worker as much as possible, but that simply makes me more determined to push myself and continue spreading my work where and when I'm able.

What is the best and worst reaction you’ve received?

I've had so many amazing reactions to Makin' It Rain, I've held friends and strangers while we've both cried our eyes out, I've been surrounded by people asking for photos together, I've had multiple-hour dissections of the work that have been so enriching.

In terms of worst reactions, I haven't had anyone come up and say the work was wrong or that they were offended. I have had people deny the work, saying that even if it wasn't truthful, it was still an amazing piece, or people say only that the work created a strip club in a theatre space.

But I think on the whole, people would be too cautious to come up and challenge me. I was just naked on stage talking about my mental health issues before rubbing donuts on my body, so I think people see steering clear of me a good decision, if they should disagree with the work.

Do you face any challenges or stigma from venues, promoters, funders, other?

If anybody, such as a venue or promoter did have an issue with the work or myself as a performer and sex worker, they've never mentioned that to me, so I can't say I've faced any stigma. I have no doubt some bodies have taken issue with the work and for example not responded to an email, but then I wouldn't know because I never heard that directly.

Who or what is your favourite sex worker artist or piece of art?

I must admit complete ignorance here, and say I don't think I've seen enough sex worker led art work to have a favourite, that isn't mine of course! But, no I do intend to see more sex worker lead work, now I have the contacts to know where to find it.

What are the differences and similarities between your performing persona & your sex work persona?

Oh goodness. There's some overlap in my performing persona and sex work persona. I guess they're both the most confident version of myself. I'm a fairly confident person, but still have massive moments of insecurity. Whereas when I'm trying to make money from my sex appeal, or trying to engage an audience of punters, they can't see that insecurity, they can't see me sweat. They can see vulnerability, they can see softness, but there still needs to be confidence there to drive those other sides of me.

Watch the Trailer for Makin' it Rain

Do you feel your artistic performance has influenced your sex work? Do you feel your sex work has influenced your artistic performance?

Oh yes! Artistic performance has informed my sex work and vice versa. I am only a sex worker BECAUSE I'm an artist. If I was pursuing a more monetarily-lucrative career, I would likely be making enough from that to not need a job to support it. But as an artist, I knew I'd need an income source for many years. And once it got to the point where I had less and less time for such a job, I decided stripping was worth a shot. And as an artist, I knew how to dance, how to move my body, how to empathise with someone I just met, how to read their expression, and provide them with an enjoyable experience.

In terms of sex work influencing my art, I've definitely let go of a lot of shame in terms of my form and showing my body on stage, which is something I love to play with now, especially in terms of comedy. I also have a better understanding of my body in space, and the use of physicality in performance to heighten it.

How do you feel about being an "out" sex worker artist? What are your hopes and what are your fears related to this?

I don't think I was ever really "in" as a sex worker artist. I would always be open to anyone I'd talk to, and the only reason I didn't mention it online was because I wanted to make the announcement with the show, to heighten the show announcement.

My hopes for being "out" are that I can help to break down barriers in people's minds about sex work, and serve as sort of an example. In that people can say: "well I know of that sex worker artist, and so I know a little bit about the industry". But also that if other sex worker artists see me being open, maybe it will help others be more open, and hopefully as more of us who chose to "come out", it can cease to be such a notable concept.

I don't really have any fears about being "out", because I know there are some people who's minds I simply can't change, and it's not for me to fight everyone along the way. So if people have a problem with my job, that's not my problem. And also they should fucking grow up.

Thank you so much Nicole for being our first featured artist and for such a wonderful interview!

Please, if you are in London this autumn go see the show! We loved it.

The link again in case you missed it: https://kingsheadtheatre.ticketsolve.com/shows/873580207

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Photo: Top Right, 'Hug' by Manu Valcarce
'Rosalind' violin/rose image by Vera Rodriguez
for other credits click here.
© Experimental Experience 2023 Photo of our cast hugging from the 2014 teaser performance at Bar Wotever at the Vauxhall Tavern