Camgirl Chronicles for ThessFringe 

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Camgirl Chronicles

In 2023 the first official Fringe Festival took place in Greece, in the city of Thessaloniki. This first edition of the ThessFringe was from May 25th to May 28th, featuring 14 events and 3 workshops. As they presented themselves: “The festival is a celebration of creativity, diversity, and culture, bringing together national and international artists from all the genres of the performing arts such as theater, circus, comedy, physical theater and children shows, to present their talents and work in front of audiences, press and arts industry professionals.”

Like all the Fringe festivals around the world, the Thessaloniki one has been organized to give an energetic boost to the artistic and cultural scene of Thessaloniki. The festival provides a platform to rising and established talents to have the chance to go on stage with as much freedom as they need. Any place can be a venue, any kind of art can be performed and moreover any sort of artist is invited to apply. 

Camgirl Chronicles

The different postures in regards to sex work are abolition, regulation or depenalization. Our work goes a step back, to reflect on what we think about this job. Even before sex work, we want to talk about work, if one trade has to be abolished let them all be abolished, let it not only apply to sex workers, let them work. This is our opinion, we don’t have any answers, we don’t want to tell anyone what to think but we would like to stimulate people to think about this actual reality, for them to listen to the voices we met.

Andrés Montes Zuluaga

During this edition of the ThessFringe, I attended the performance “Camgirl Chronicles”. A genuine inside view of the camgirl industry in colombia, a performance that gives you a powerful punch, perhaps not so easy to watch but easy to be enraptured by, especially after the show is over, when what you want is to learn more and delve deeper into a topic as vast as it is complex. I also had the chance to talk with Maud Madlyn & Andrés Montes Zuluaga*, the artists that created and performed on stage the show.

Maud Madlyn & Andrés Montes Zuluaga
Maud Madlyn & Andrés Montes Zuluaga, Camgirl chronicles for ThessFringe ©Maxime Ricaud

How did all this start? 

Andrés In December 2016, a feminicide occurred that shocked me. Basically a 38-year-old upper class man kidnapped a poor indigenous girl, put her in his car and took her to his apartment, where he tortured raped and murdered her, attempting to conceal evidence to avoid conviction. We protested so that he would not go unpunished and finally the man was convicted, but from that moment on, something in me raised questions. Why did he do this and how and what was this man thinking? 

So as a theater producer, I wanted to create a play that showed how some men’s desires are sometimes too violent. As easy as it was to find women to talk about the violence they experienced, conversely, it was not easy to find someone to talk about the violence inflicted, to find men willing to talk openly about their violent desires,

A few months later I met a friend who worked as a camgirl. She told me that every day in her job she talks to men who have violent desires. The fantasies she was asked for through the webcam often had to do with rape, incest, assault against the woman, and mistreatment of the her. I would have wanted her to take me with her to these chats, but for her and the others I talked to, it was impossible. Especially because in the studios where they work it is forbidden to save recordings, so they would have had to do it off records and they didn’t want to risk it.

So to succeed in the project it was necessary for an actress to infiltrate and get this material. I searched for two and a half years until I met Mode. I really admire her work and her person, and I offered her the idea for us to work equally. I didn’t want to direct the work myself, it felt right for it to be 50/50, I didn’t want it to be a work of a man directing a woman, especially a woman like Maud who holds great qualities as an artist.

Camgirl Chronicles for ThessFringe 
Camgirl Chronicles for ThessFringe  ©Maxime Ricaud

Camgirl Chronicles that you brought at the Thessfringe is not the first version of the piece..

Andrés We began our project in 2019, and jointly we have already created two plays. Once the first version was created the pandemic came in 2020,. When Voila, a festival in London that is connected to ThessFringe, invited us it was not possible to travel and the theaters were closed, so they asked us to create something that was digital.

However, the new digital version of the work was of a different kind, a different experience, and so we saw potential in this digital material to create a further work, a new staging. From the stage to the computer to the scene again, all different from each other. With the recordings we also began to develop a short film that is in development. This is the overall project, which I would call a transmedia work.

So Maud, you are the actress but also the writer, creator and producer. 

Maud Yes I accepted the challenge that Andres offered me to make this piece and I went in as co creator with him, we are working as a duo on these three variations of this investigation. The first he talked about is called “Trojana” from 2019, then “Camgirl chronicles” and now the short film we have been working on. 

You then infiltrated this industry, offering an inside look but above all to give these men a voice

Maud The whole idea of Camgirls Chronicles is to hear those men’s voices. The way women are treated is very important to both of us. It wouldn’t have made sense to go into the camgirl industry and not talk to the camgirls, share their experiences. The girls were our colleagues, in the different studios we worked in, some of them were also Andrés’s friends. They are involved in the process, in creating the show, in coaching us as well, and in how to perform as camgirl. The voices from the girls are in the piece, we didn’t want to leave them out,  to silence them. 

But as Andrés said it was easy to find victims to talk about their violence but not to listen to the voices of the perpetrators of this violence. The core of the show has always been hearing those men’s voices, and not only clients. We have them, but also men who run the cam studios, men who train the girls – because all that is done by men. 

You get this kind of corus of men’s different voices, and they are involved in different ways and they say very different things but of course that  is the core of the project. Is an inside into the webcam industry, focusing on those men’s voices and the way we heard and experienced them by doing this infiltration. 

Camgirl Chronicles for ThessFringe 
Camgirl Chronicles for ThessFringe  ©Maxime Ricaud

It’s common to think of these women doing this job from their home, it is surprising to realize that there are whole studios that manage the girls doing it..

Andrés Then the industry is doing its job well, because it’s the illusion that sells, a girl from her home, having fun, doing it for pleasure, it’s not a job for them. They create these narratives, but behind the room there is someone who is administering, keeping the accounts, someone installing all the technical equipment, there is a whole team behind it. Camgirl chronicles is also about their experience working with those men, on and off camera. 

Maud Usually there are men on top of the hierarchy, running the studios. There are some that have women at the top of it, it is generally women that are public figures or well known women. 

Andrés It is a pyramid in which at the top is the person who owns the platform – the largest one for example has a man at the head – lower down is the team of programmers and those who handle the hardware, then there are the studios that connect to the platform (with everyone working on it, trainers, photographers etc.) and finally there are the girls who work. The money obviously gets divided. The platform keeps most of the proceeds, can be 50%, 60%, 70%, it depends, and the rest goes to the studios and camgirls. In the end the one who earns the most is a man.

What about the studios runned by women?

Maud Women that created their studios, did it to give better conditions to the girls working: They recognise it as a job that a lot of women do, and since they’ll probably continue doing it they want to create a female runned company, where the workers are treated better than the men’s runned ones. So I think that the approach of the studios with a woman at the head has brought something important to the industry. 

Andrés  As well as the studios runned by queer persons that maintain an ethical work policy. But this is not the norm, this is the exception. 

But you decided to not infiltrate these studios..

Andrés We entered the studios that might represent the most common situation  in the industry. We wanted to show what the average type is. We never wanted to show the job as something negative, or positive, just the reality of it. The negative experiences that came out of the testimonies are there because it was the girls who wanted to talk about them. There are also women who had a positive experience, who made good money, and they too are part of camgirl chronicles testimonials. But again, it is the exception not the norm.

Andrés There is one side of this work that is very interesting, for years there has been a difficult situation in Colombia. This industry has given many girls who do not have the opportunity to study in university, the opportunity to find a job. As well as female students who do this work to support themselves in college. These girls, who often study philosophy, art, political science… have made a very important contribution to the work of sexworkers, a valid reflection on this phenomenon, opening the way for their empowerment, “soy puta” and I’m not ashamed of it, a mentality of a more open society.

These girls are also an exception, like ethically correct studios. I want to say that because it’s important for me to say that the phenomenon is vast, there are different sides of the same story but for our show we had to choose what to say, and our focus was on the situations that we think represent the majority.

Maud Because it is a worldwide phenomenon you are going to find a lot of different ways to experience this, as a man and as a woman. We just choose to work with the generality of both, the most common stories. And we found that the majority of the girls are young, more conservative and most probably hiding their job from everyone they know, while the majority of men they are going to meet are violent. 

Camgirl Chronicles for ThessFringe 
Camgirl Chronicles for ThessFringe  ©Maxime Ricaud

As both have stated their work will most likely disturb the viewer, where sex positive is the exception and not the rule. The piece does not follow a political idea and is not meant to be a moralist work. As artists they have chosen to bring to the stage something that lies outside of any political agenda, or a specific movement. It is a sprawling work that deals with different themes, economic context, geopolitical context, and the need to work, many things came into play. It talks about how Colombia is among the top nations in the industry, about the studios and the female workers, and how most of the clients are from North America and Western Europe.

*Andrés’ answers are translated by me from Spanish to English.

See what else is happening in Thessaloniki here

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