Broken Sex Doll toys with robots, music, and moral decay

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There’s one thing that writer and director Andy Thompson can promise about his new sci-fi musical, Broken Sex Doll: it delivers on its name.

“There’s vaginal sex, anal sex, oral sex, sex with robots, cyber sex; there’s a lot of sex in this show,” Thompson laughs, a delighted smile taking over his face. “Oh, and heterosexuality. And explorations of gender swapping. Bisexuality. I’m interested in a type of world where all sexuality is fine, there are no rules. It’s kind of like anarchy.”

Thompson has just finished a Saturday-afternoon rehearsal at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park with two of his leads, Gili Roskies and Benjamin Elliott, who play star-crossed lovers Ginger, a sex robot, and Darren, an actor who becomes a porn megastar. In three weeks what might be the most risqué and hilariously shocking production the Cultch has ever seen will open, but don’t be quick to dismiss it just because it wants to shove a “monster cock” in your face. There’s heart, hope, and some seriously interesting subject matter driving the absurdity.

It all stems from a grant that theatre group Here Be Monsters received a few years ago as part of the City of Vancouver’s 125th anniversary. Joining forces with Theatre Under the Gun, the troupe invited Thompson’s company, the Virtual Stage, to create a new play in 125 hours inspired by one of three specially commissioned essays imagining Vancouver in 125 years. The gist of the essay Thompson received: in the future, people can record and share their actual experiences with one another.

“I was curious about this technology,” Thompson recalls. “The first thing I thought was, ‘Okay, if you can record and share experiences, what if it was then commodified?’”

The question resonated for him, and the technology struck a nerve that was already perpetually tingling thanks to his self-described “obsession” with the 1980s cult flick Brainstorm, body robotics, and liquid computing. But he also went into the creation process knowing he wanted to make a “sexy” play and have some fun.

“Daryl Hannah’s character in Blade Runner, Pris, she’s referred to as being a pleasure model and that’s always rang in my head,” Thompson says. “Then I thought, ‘What if technology continues to advance at this rapid rate: are we, the people, advancing with technology? What will happen over a century if we advance technologically but stay the same or go backwards morally?’”

In Broken Sex Doll, these questions manifested as a future in which porn and the sex industry have all but taken over people’s lives. That afforded Thompson the opportunity to explore addiction and the ways in which people try to escape their real-life experiences.

“In fact, that’s the name of one of the songs: ‘This Is Not What I’m Supposed To Be Experiencing’,” Thompson says with a laugh. “I think I might have said that to myself way back when, when I might have been unhappy one day. The complete denial of my experience. I now know today, because I’m a little bit wiser and a little bit more mature, that if I’m feeling blue, not to run away from it or suppress it or try to get rid of the feeling, but just to feel my feelings.”

However, when it came to exploring those components—depression, addiction, moral degradation, technology, the sex industry, ethics—Thompson was wary of making heavy-handed, self-important art.

“If dealt with in a morose, self-indulgent way, like sometimes happens with creators of art,” Thompson says, laughing again, “they forget that an audience has to watch it. I’ve been hoping to avoid that scenario like the plague. I just want to have fun.”

But first, Thompson says, he had to rip the original to shreds. Only about one-and-a-half scenes remain from Broken Sex Doll’s original theatrical incarnation, which included just one musical number. Thompson recruited 23-year-old wunderkind and Jessie award–winner Anton Lipovetsky to compose one or two songs to heighten the show’s absurdist nature. There are now approximately 15 songs, Thompson says, and he’s happily surrendered to the fact that Broken Sex Doll is now a musical.

“Anton Lipovetsky is a frickin’ genius,” Thompson gushes. “Anton is the next Lloyd Nicholson,” he adds, comparing Lipovetsky to his former mentor, a legendary force in Canadian theatre and musicals, who died suddenly in 2010. “He’s a prodigy. He’s brilliant. And the musical pieces he’s put together in this project are nothing short of inspired. My script and the content is so dirty and filthy—this real guttural sexuality that’s brought to the surface in this anarchic sci-fi future society—and it’s sung so beautifully, the experience is completely unique.”

That doesn’t mean some people aren’t rolling their eyes at what they see as a desperate cashing-in on the easy sell: sex. Thompson’s no stranger to criticism for what some see as pandering.

“I’ve come up to some resistance at times in my journey as an artist, the idea of what’s popular as not having value,” Thompson says. “Our last show, The Zombie Syndrome, was very popular, but it also had a lot of integrity.”

As for the artistic types who see anything popular as bad, Thompson empathizes with that point of view. He knows that oftentimes pop culture is motivated by the lowest common denominator.

“But at the same time, if I was to create a piece without at all taking into account the audience’s experience—it’s such a classic mistake to disregard the audience,” he says.

Thompson says he won’t lie; he has to consider the commercial aspect of his work, especially in today’s funding environment. “But I think it’s perfectly legitimate to do something that’s popular. What I’m doing differently with this piece, as opposed to pop culture that’s sensationalized, [is] I’m putting some serious themes underneath that are interesting and intelligent and thought-provoking—hopefully.” 

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