Your NPR news source

Playwright Brynne Frauenhoffer set her new drama Pro-Am in a Miami home shared by young women who’ve been recruited to the adult film industry. Pictured here are cast members (from left) Amanda Fink, Jenni Hadley, Angelica Grace, Brenna DiStasio, Kaylah Crosby and David Stobbe.

Michael Brosilow

A Chicago playwright finds plenty of drama in the amateur adult film industry

Brynne Frauenhoffer digs into what makes workplaces — including pornography sets — fit for the stage.

Brynne Frauenhoffer has a thing for dramatic workplaces. The Chicago-based playwright has set previous plays in a vape shop and a Pizza Hut.

Frauenhoffer’s new play, Pro-Am, produced by First Floor Theatre and premiering at The Den Theater in Wicker Park through June 15 is another workplace drama. But this time, the coworkers at the heart of her story are a group of sex workers renting rooms in a shared house in Miami.

Sex work — emphasis on the “work” part — is a closely examined topic in American culture right now. Advocacy around the country has called attention to exploitation in the adult film industry. Meanwhile, the hush money trial that has landed former President Donald Trump back in court features testimony from adult-film star Stormy Daniels, raising questions in the national media about how we view sex work in contemporary society.

WBEZ caught up with Frauenhoffer to chat about her new play, to learn why she decided to center sex work in her new workplace drama and dig into what it is about workplaces that makes them fit for the stage.

WBEZ: Can you tell me a little bit about your new play?

Frauenhoffer: Pro-Am is an accidental period piece. I started writing it in 2017, although the idea originally happened after seeing a documentary about the adult entertainment industry in Miami about the women who go there looking to get a start in that kind of a career.

Hot Girls Wanted documentary

The documentary Hot Girls Wanted inspired the new Chicago play Pro-Am. Here former amateur porn actress Rachel Bernard (left) and producer Rashida Jones participate in AOL’s BUILD Speaker Series to discuss the documentary in 2015 in New York.

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

What was the documentary?

The documentary was Hot Girls Wanted. I just happened to watch it on Netflix and was fascinated with the amateur porn industry. How people would get started in Miami specifically, where it was just girls who’ve never done that kind of work before. A lot of them. And these agencies would just give them a plane ticket to fly them out to Miami from all over the country, and they would just get started. So, it’s this quick start in a new career in a new city for all of these girls from all over.

How does Pro-Am explore these stories?

I think within this play and within the different experiences of all of the characters — because there’s a number of women who come into the play as performers, who have different relationships to the work that they’re doing and how they see this as a career or view it like a temporary versus a more long-term situation. I think the play explores their different relationships to this kind of job and also how people outside of the industry perceive performers — versus what the day to day of that life is actually like. And how those performers exist in such a specific career. It’s a job play. So, it’s almost like a workplace dramedy. It’s about how they navigate this job and how they interact with a world that has assumptions about this job that may or may not match their experience of it.

Brynne Frauenhoffer

Brynne Frauenhoffer, the playwright behind Pro-Am, made sex work the center of her new workplace drama.

What draws you to tell stories about workplaces?

I studied acting in college, and during and since then, I’ve had so many different types of jobs. Every workplace has its own people dynamics and ways people talk to each other. And they are so unique. I think there are a lot of plays about private domestic family life or about friends hanging out, so kind of novelty — like, ‘Oh, I haven’t seen a play about a Pizza Hut’ or ‘I haven’t seen a play set in a vape shop.’ It’s something new to try. (Editor’s note: Frauenhoffer’s previous plays include Vape Naysh, produced by First Floor Theatre in 2020, and Pizza Hut Heartbreaker, a drama about a love triangle between coworkers at the popular pizza chain.)

Specifically, I just love the inside baseball of how coworkers talk to each other about their work and gossip about each other, their customers and their bosses. Those relationships are so juicy and specific.

That makes sense. But this play is about the adult film industry. It feels different than a workplace drama set in a pizza joint. People can relate to working in a restaurant, but how will you get them to relate to working in the porn industry?

I get what you mean; there’s a difference. But there are so many assumptions about what working in porn could be like. I think about the ways I used to hear people talk about a variety of sex work, including stripping, like, ‘Oh, it’s like such easy money,’ and like, ‘Wow, I wish I could do that, just be hot and people give you cash.’ There’s so many different judgments and also assumptions that it’s straightforward and that it’s not labor.

Part of what I’m interested in is getting detail oriented. What is the day to day like? You think about people on set, but you don’t think about the reality of being a freelance performer. Like, it’s not specific to porn — you’re a gig worker. You’re working with 1099s. Maybe you have an agent, maybe you don’t. You have to negotiate what you’re being paid gig to gig. You have to manage your social media. You become an actor and a product.

I was just really motivated to get into how much work there is in it, the ambition that it requires and the administrative side of it. The way people can be innovative and the way that you have to balance time. Often, you’re doing some scenes of porn where it’s like, you go on set, you shoot for a number of hours and then someone else edits and produces and distributes that content. But also, most of these models are also doing cam work, or they’re stripping or they’re even doing club appearances. You’re never just doing one thing. It’s a hustle all the time. I relate to it as someone who works in the arts. I have had two different part-time jobs while trying to write plays, and assisting directors and auditioning to act. I don’t know many people these days to just have one source of income.

What did you see in that documentary that made you want to write this workplace drama?

It was how these young women were just showing up in Miami. Some of them had never been there before. Some of them had never done this type of work. And they’re coming from all over the country. And it’s sort of like an alternative kind of a dorm because they’re all staying at the house of their agent. There’s two girls to a room and they’re going to shoots and getting booked for different gigs, but all of them are living in a space together in a residential area. I think that’s pretty unique for a workplace. It’s like, they’re sometimes working together, and they’re all in the same industry and also share a house — sometimes bedrooms — and it’s so fun to have so many young women in this sort of liminal home. I started to think about the physical world of it, how people are on top of each other, and all of their belongings, and all of their schedules and how their personalities collide.

If you go: Pro-Am runs through June 15 at the Den Theater in Wicker Park, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets from $7.

Mike Davis is WBEZ’s theater reporter.

Want more culture news in your inbox every week? Subscribe to Green Room, a newsletter from WBEZ’s Arts & Culture desk.

The Latest
This summer, brush up on your local history with tours that highlight everything from architectural styles to underground critters.

With legal troubles behind him, the Chicago native will play the Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash Festival on Sunday — his first performance in the area in over 10 years.
As her three-year tenure comes to a close, Jessie Montgomery reminisces over her time with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and shares her inspirations.
Some residents and business owners are happy to see the traffic and noise leave and for the community to regain access to green space. Others are sorry to lose the excitement and crowds.
Looking for a retreat in or near the city? Here are 10 trails, parks, forest preserves, urban gardens and lesser-known spots to escape the hustle and hurry.