Things We Do Not Know: Bristol's Sex Workers

Kate Wyver discusses the upcoming show at The People's Republic of Stokes Croft 16th-18th March called Things We Do Not Know.

Sex workers on the streets of Bristol are assaulted regularly. They are beaten, they are thrown out of cars, they are degraded. They are forced to give more than they are being paid for, they are hit and they are raped. And yet they carry on, because they are desperate. 99% of Bristol’s street sex workers are addicted to class A drugs, and 80% are homeless. This is what we’ve been making a show about.

Things We Do Not Know is a verbatim play, which means every word is real. We are trying to be as faithful to these women’s truths as possible, never sensationalising their circumstances. We collated interviews, testimonies and online forums to curate the show. When you’re re-rehearsing a play so packed with emotional stories it can be easy to become de-sensitised to it all, so we’ve found it important to remind ourselves repeatedly that the words we are speaking are some people’s reality. We’ve tried to connect with the women as much as possible through their words, and we readily admit that we only know a fraction of these women’s lives. Despite working with their words and learning about street sex work in Bristol, we still can’t entirely comprehend the horrors they have been through, hence the name of the show.

We started developing Things We Do Not Know last year, with the University society Spotlights. This year we’ve created our own theatre company, Process Theatre, and are continuing with the show. With year abroads and University changes, the cast is slightly different, and the show is refreshed and rearranged, with some chunks cut entirely, and new pieces in their place. Rather than telling the audience what their expectations are and then shattering them, we’re diving straight into the latter stage. With every change we are trying to make it more human, more of a stark reminder that while we’re inside performing the show, these women are out on the streets only a few minutes drive away.

We’re performing the show in collaboration with the Bristol-based charity One25. They help women get clean, safe and ultimately off the streets. They have a centre that welcomes the women and provides a safe space for them to have a shower, a warm meal and to be seen by doctors. They also go round with a van five nights a week, providing food, support and condoms to the women. One25 have been incredibly welcoming to our cast and crew, showing us round their hub, coming to rehearsals and helping us every step of the way. There will be a collection bucket at the end of the show which is going straight to One25, and when we eventually finish the show (there’s a potential of another run), all the profits will go to the charity.

Things We Do Not Know is a quiet show. We sing and we talk and we hope to get across some of what we’ve learnt. We don’t shout about sex work, we don’t sensationalise anything and we don’t dance sexily. If we’ve learnt anything through this process, it is that street sex work is probably the least sexy profession there is.

Whenever we visit One25, the staff and volunteers reassert the side of the profession most don’t think about, the deadly banality that goes alongside the horrific attacks. A large part of the women's time is spent waiting, for their pimp, for their next client or for their next fix. We hope audiences will go away having learnt a little more about the issue, and having gained a little respect for these women’s bravery.

Street sex work is soul-destroying. It has been an honour to get to work with a charity who do such good for so many while making Things We Do Not Know.

Check out the play's Facebook page here and find out more about One25 here.