Interview with Eleanor O’Brien: Love, Marriage, and Polyamory

Dance Naked Productions. Love and Marriage. Photo Lloyd Lemmerman. Dance Naked Productions. Love and Marriage. Photo Lloyd Lemmerman.

Just before that mad postering scramble in Fringe Park, Eleanor O’Brien meets me in a coffee shop across the street to talk about her Fringe show, ‘Lust & Marriage’. She rolls in with a pink backpack, fiery red hair, decked out in a ‘Lust & Marriage’ t-shirt and an upbeat personality. We sit in a booth at the back.

O’Brien opens up about how she met her husband just as he was divorcing, right after she read “Ethical Slut”, which she says “is a kind of primer for polyamory.” Both wanting to keep their options open, they’ve spent the last ten years exploring polyamory. “Generally, when I’m thinking a lot about something, I want to make a show about it,” she explains.

This solo show follows Emily, O’Brien’s alter-ego, through her conflict of realizing she loves two people, and what happens when she explores polyamory and the possibility of being monogam-ish.

“My mission is to make theatre about sexuality that celebrates sexuality,” she notes about her production company and its shows. “I saw The Vagina Monologues like fifteen years ago. Like, you can make theatre about vaginas! So great! But it’s sort of focussed on the pain and trauma of sexuality and I felt I wanted to make shows that were inspirational and lift people up. So, my first show, ‘Dominatrix for Dummies’, was about my training to be a dominatrix in New York — I was terrible at it. But it’s also combined with discovering ecstatic dance… It’s awesome and I love it. And for me, it’s about self acceptance. It doesn’t matter what you look like. It’s about just dropping into who you are. It’s kind of a party show.”

Originally, ‘Lust & Marriage’ told of a married woman who falls in love with another woman. O’Brien mentions that a woman felt safer. “It felt too close to home,” she explains her resistance in making her love interest male, “because it was true.” Eventually, with help from her solo coach she decided, “That’s what I need to do on stage; tell the story that I’m afraid to tell.”

“I felt it was a story I hadn’t seen much in entertainment. Like TV, there’s Big Love, about a man who has several wives. But I didn’t see the polyamorous love story where it wasn’t a problem. I mean, obviously, there’s shit you’ve got to work out,” O’Brien clarifies. “There’s jealousy and all that. But I wanted to make a story that wasn’t like ‘and now we’ve gone back to monogamy because now we’ve realized how stupid that was.’”

O’Brien tells of having first performed the show only ten days after writing it. Then, the show had a map for a backdrop with letters and little cartoon replicas, as a sort of cheat sheet due to the time crunch in memorizing everything. After hiring TJ Dawe to dramaturge, the show is completely stripped of these elements in order to allow the story to stand on its own.

She opens up about her current relationships and tells me about her practical, capable, woodworker husband, “Basically, he falls asleep in everything. It doesn’t matter if I’m in it or not. So, my boyfriend is a theatre professor at the local community college. It’s great because we can talk theatre and we’ve done shows together. It fulfills a different part of me that I was starved for. I love my husband, but he doesn’t want to talk about shows with me. And I can talk as much as I want about: here’s what I’m thinking, but I’m not going to get anything back. He’s just like ‘If you want me to build the set, I’ll build a set.’”

Over the course of our chat she repeatedly mentions that the show’s intention is not to push polyamory. It isn’t for everyone. “I didn’t want him [husband] to fall in love with anybody else. And that’s a big part of my show. Like, it’s okay to have sex with other people, but don’t fall in love with anyone… Ultimately, what it came to is that’s a very unfair thing. And then, I realized, it is possible. You can be in love with more than one person. And I think that, culturally, we have this idea that if your partner is in love with somebody else, there’s less love for you. That was a big one for me to get over. And that, to me, is kind of the core of my story. By trying to control him, I cut him off from his heart, and it started to kind of destroy our relationship because he kind of shut down piece by piece.”

“Honestly, I wouldn’t want to have sex, at this point, without an emotional connection. I did that in my twenties, and was sort of proud of it. Now, I’m a little bit more ‘I want that [connection].’ And I want that even outside of sex. I want to have it with you. I want to have it with the barista. I want to have like a ‘we’re human beings, and I want to connect.’ So, it wouldn’t make sense for me, at this point, to have sex with somebody that I didn’t feel that connection with. It doesn’t mean I have to fall in love,” though O’Brien’s charm makes it hard to not fall a little bit in love with her upon a first meeting. “It doesn’t mean it’s going to last. It doesn’t mean it has to last more than one night. I still have the occasional one night stand. And hell yes, on the Fringe I plan on it!”

Lust & Marriage is at the Montreal Improv Theatre (3697 Saint-Laurent) and plays Fri, June 12th @ 21h45, Sat, June 13th @ 15h15, Mon, June 15th @ 18h00, Tues, June 16th @ 23h15, Fri, June 19th @ 20h15, and Sun, June 21st @ 15h15. For more information about Eleanor O’Brien’s theatre company, click HERE.