Beauty News NYC got the scoop from playwright Caytha Jentis on her background, her play, “Sex Work/Sex Play,” and more!
Could you please provide us with some background information about yourself as a filmmaker and playwright?
I consider myself a storyteller. I have been telling stories since elementary school, whether it’s been pen to paper or as a salesperson or producer. I have a BS in television and film from Syracuse University and an MFA in screenwriting from UCLA. I made my first feature, And Then Came Love, a romantic comedy starring Vanessa Williams, Eartha Kitt, and Anna Camp, in 2006. We had the good fortune to get a distribution deal with Warner Brothers. I have since written and produced three more successful indie features, a popular web series, and short films. My stage play “It’s All About the Kids” won the NJ Playwrights Competition and had a small production. “Sex Work/Sex Play” is my first play to be produced Off-Broadway!
What drives your creative process and the themes you explore in your work?
I’m an armchair social anthropologist scribe. The human condition inspires me. I have a diverse group of expected and unexpected friends whose stories inspire me. I want my epitaph to read: “She lived life for the story.”
Your play, “Sex Work/Sex Play,” explores themes of sex, love, and connection in the digital age. Can you tell us more about how real-life events and cultural trends, such as sugar dating and platforms like Only Fans, inspired the story and characters in the play?
I’ve always been fascinated by the mysteries and science of sex, love, and connection. Over the years, I’ve read books like Plato’s Dialogue on Love, Aziz Ansari’s Modern Love, and Helen Fisher’s book, Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray. This fascination has informed my writing. I had written a monologue for a theater company about a nervous idealistic romantic guy getting ready for a date with a woman he’d met on a dating app. We learn that he’s a porn star. I was intrigued by how porn presents unrealistic unattainable sex while, similarly, much of social media is filtered, edited, unrealistic unattainable love. It was the spark that would ignite this longer piece. I chose this theme and created a contemporary world around it.Photo by Richard Rivera
You mentioned that you have a knack for writing about motherhood, and the character of a divorced Brooklyn middle-aged mother is central to your story. Could you share how this character drives the narrative and what aspects of motherhood you aimed to explore through her?
I like to say I write through the mother’s gaze. I have written about a donor-inseminated single mother, a suburban mother grappling with suburban sports culture, mothers facing the empty nest, and a millennial mother who has lost her way as a stay-at-home mother. As mentioned, the play started with a love-idealistic young sex worker, I was trying to imagine who would be the perfect foil, someone disillusioned and has given up on love, it didn’t take me long to figure out who that was – divorced, urban middle-aged working mother who ultimately regains hope in an unusual way. Another scene-stealing mother I created was an overweight, depressed, desexualized suburban mother who ultimately gets her groove back.
In your creative process, you mentioned researching and learning from various sources, including interviews with a well-known porn star, and reading about feminism across generations. How did these insights and research inform the development of your characters and the overall message of “Sex Work/SexPlay”?
It helped me to humanize the characters, give them pathos, and make them three-dimensional. They could easily be stereotypes. Some techniques I like to use are monologues and breaking the fourth wall. These are devices that I believe help the audience understand these characters and their vulnerabilities better.Photo by Richard Rivera
Before we dive deeper, could you provide our readers with a brief plot blurb for “Sex Work/Sex Play”?
Set in Brooklyn, this charming and witty play invites us to laugh at the delightfully awkward and uncomfortable scenarios of five people – a divorced mother, her college-aged daughter, a suburban husband and wife, and a male porn star, who are all struggling in their own ways with life, love, relationships, work, and… sex! Where everything and everybody is a swipe away and nobody tells the truth.
What can audiences expect in terms of the play’s storyline, its characters, and the overarching themes it explores?
It’s like movies such as Crazy, Stupid Love, and Love Actually. We explore and ultimately celebrate familiar, romantic, and emotional love and connection that ends with a farcical scene that brings all the characters and their individual stories together.
Your work often delves into contemporary cultural trends and societal issues. How do you balance addressing these themes comedically while maintaining depth and relevance in your storytelling?
I always start with a premise question which drives the plot. For this it was, cross generationally, how has the internet impacted dating/relationships? I need a story that becomes the litmus test for the themes I want to explore – like through my research, I discovered that many of the younger generations are choosing not to have kids. It intrigued me. The hashtag #childfree trends on TikTok and Reddit, but I couldn’t find a way to naturally incorporate that as a storyline into the play.
With “Sex Work/Sex Play” opening Off-Broadway, what can audiences expect regarding the play’s tone, humor, and overall impact? Are there specific messages or takeaways you hope viewers will leave with after watching your production?
I hope that the audience enjoys the humor while realizing that the story does not depend on it. It’s a thoughtful, accessible play that packs a lot of trends in a fast, furious, and fun way. While there is cynicism, there is also hope – that love is like oxygen. I hope that audiences have a fun escapist experience and that it creates a safe healthy space to talk about taboo topics like sex, sex work, and pornography.
Get your tickets for “Sex Work/Sex Play” through October 29th at Emerging Artists Theatre HERE.
Read other Q&As published by Beauty News NYC HERE.