Webcamming Chronicles (2022), Cockpit Theatre – Review

First produced as an expanded digital documentary in 2020, Webcamming Chronicles casts a light on the growth of online performers in Colombia – a trend which has globally grown exponentially in recent years. My original write-up for this documentary can be read via the link below and should be seen first before continuing: Now that lockdown restrictions have been lifted in most countries, Webcamming Chronicles as a show has been performed in various countries, with the run in London marking its live English language premiere.

All of the same elements of the documentary appear in the live show, including the statistics and money that the models and studios respectively earn, the onus on the models’ mental health and the sociological aspects of men pursuing their darkest fantasies.

However, notable differences between the two versions of Webcamming Chronicles include the physical presence of co-deviser Maud Madlyn on stage and the absence of ‘distance’ (in every sense) between the audience and the show’s subject matter.

Within the original digital documentary, there was an interactive segment where the viewer had to create a webcam persona for the fictitious Trojan Horse studio, based on their own appearence and personal ‘preferences’. The object of this exercise was to show what all potential models go through in terms of ‘scrutiny’ – even before they start working – and a moment of honesty with oneself about acceptable ‘boundaries’. Questions were also put forward about the ‘ideal’ clients ‘you’ as a model wanted to attract – the answers given would determine the potential remuneration. The more ‘vanilla’ one’s boundaries are, the less money one could earn as a living. As ‘intrusive’ as it felt answering the questions in private, the same line of questioning within the live show took the discomfort to another level…

On the evening that I attended, I would estimate that in the audience there was a slightly greater ratio of women to men. The reason why this is ‘important’ is that when the questions I just mentioned were answered by the audience, the answers given reminded me of a scene from The Thick Of It sitcom where there was a discussion about “This is what we should do” – the inflection of should dictating how different characters interpreted the PM’s opinion. So what should the audience’s model offer clients?

Of the ‘roleplay’ themes that Trojan Horse provides to webcam clients, most were rejected outright by the audience – with the exception of women as dominatrixes. Obviously one way of interpreting this is the ‘extreme’ and ‘distasteful’ examples were omitted, leaving only those that were relatively ‘socially acceptable’. However, if the task was to choose the roleplay themes that ‘sell’, then the choices made would have been very different.

Earlier in the evening, when the audience was asked if anyone had viewed webcamming chat rooms, no one put their hand up. However, if the audience was asked had anybody seen pornography (either voluntary or come across it by accident), the answer would have been very different. Going back to the aforementioned roleplay themes, even going by what’s mentioned on social media, one could glean that they are popular topics on porn websites. With this mind, the choices made by the audience to avoid most of them wouldn’t have made economic sense. Of course webcamming or pornography in general is a business where conventional morality is absent, so seeing the ‘Utopian’ choices created by the audience only verifies that stance.

With the questions put to the audience about ‘watching webcamming’ and other matters related to sexuality, they reminded me of Gallup polls to do with voting for popular or controversial figures. People often say/do what’s expected of them in public, but in private it’s often the reverse. Because the audience in the show was asked to make decisions about creating their model’s persona and the ‘ideal’ clientele, any answers given were ‘revealing’ in some capacity and took on a Kinsey-esque quality. While the live show fleshes out all of the topics in the digital documentary, I wouldn’t be surprised if answers given in the interactive segment of digital documentary had a greater degree of ‘honesty’, because there was no one else there to judge the answers. Even amomg ‘enlightened’ theatre folk, there isn’t homogeneity in regards to opinions.

The last segment of the live show, which dealt with the culture of violence towards women in Colombia was just as chilling in it’s own way as the version in the digital documentary. The ‘confession’ of the killer without any shred of attrition is bone-chilling, serving to remind us that for some men, it is only when they are caught that any regret is shown and not because of the immorality of their actions…

Having watched both the digital documentary and live version of the Webcamming Chronicles, I can concur that each has particular strengths that elicit both thought-provoking and visceral reactions from their audiences. The questions and insights the Webcamming Chronicles raise don’t engender comforting or ready-made solutions. However, the production does highlight the ‘warts and all’ reality of this avenue of sex work, and how the pursuit and promise of money allows the darkest of fantasies to be routinely tolerated.

© Michael Davis 2022

Webcamming Chronicles ran at the Cockpit Theatre from 6th to 8th June.

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