Since the Internet was invented, online porn has been the elephant in the room. Most people feel awkward talking about it, but Paul Cameron Hardy’s play about the porn industry pulls no punches. Mope follows crass and hyper-masculine Trevor, who is on the lowest level of the porn totem pole, and the struggles he faces after years of equating himself to an appendage. Paste talked with Hardy about writing his thought-provoking show. Mope is showing at the Ensemble Studio Theatre until February 19.
When did you get the idea for Mope
Paul Cameron Hardy: The simple answer is in the spring of 2014, I started it and finished the first draft in fall of 2014. It was the first play I finished at Brooklyn College. I’ve had designs on writing a play about contemporary American straight pornography since I was around 20. I struggled for years and years figuring what story to tell. Some years ago, I realized I wanted to break it up and I think by the end there will be five or six plays in what I falsely call a cycle. It will share different characters and different places. Mope is the first in that series that I wrote.
After this are you planning on putting the second part of the series on anywhere?
Paul Cameron Hardy: I finished another one, and there was a reading of that a bit ago. I’m getting ramped up to write the third. I actually don’t want to spend all of my time writing pornography plays. I’m fairly conscience of not wanting to become the “porn play dude,” because a lot of people have super adverse reactions to the idea of porn plays or think they know what that means. I think a lot of what we hear about pornography either is really dissociative or negative about it or “Oh, look, porn!” and it’s about this very simplistic, titillation. It’s a very taboo subject matter, and I’m interested the bigger, stranger societal question of what it means to be in the subculture of making it. When I split it up, it’s great, because I can have these plays that are less—Mope is set in the porn world and I think you learn a lot of details that are not common knowledge, but Mope’s also not totally a play about porn. I don’t know when the second one will happen, but the goal is that this becomes so massively successful that I can have all six happening at once. In the way that Lucy Thurber did. I think it would super cool to experience them all together to see how the worlds fit into themselves and bleed into each other. But I’m very aggressively trying not to be the porn guy.
I think the play is extremely timely right now, especially with the main character’s toxic masculinity. Why did you decide that Trevor should be a mope in the porn industry?
Paul Cameron Hardy: It’s partially because I’m interested in the way range of details in that industry. I think part of it is we tend to think of the porn industry as being porn stars. I’m super interested in the idea of letting people know that there’s actually weird ecosystem. The mopes are very fascinating, because we don’t think of the stardom levels and the different positions people are in. It’s fricken crazy that these people are referred to as “mopes.” That’s an industry term. The stereotypical dude fantasy is: “I get to be a huge porn star. I have a huge dick and I fuck women all the time.” I love that contradiction of every high school boy’s dream of being a porn star, but actually you’re called a “mope” to your face. You’re super disposable. Even the best high-level porn dudes acknowledge you’re not a porn star, you’re a prop. If you’re good at it, that changes a bit. I like the contradiction of these expectations vs reality of fantasy. I think it made it ripe for exploring the broad societal themes: What do we expect from men and what does a certain part of our culture train us what to expect from men? How does that expectation and our burden of buying into it mess with us being conscientious members of society?
When it comes to Shawn, you wouldn’t think that a guy who is respectful of women would move up in the porn industry so quickly.
Paul Cameron Hardy: My interest in the play lies in confounding contradictions about what the industry is and how it’s portrayed. Like Shawn says, it’s a job and you have to think like a business person. It doesn’t mean the only thing that’s going to help is being a good person, but it doesn’t hurt to be someone people enjoy being around and takes care of their business in a respectful manner. I love this idea that the play ended up being a little bit more pressing than I expected and in the forefront of that spirit of Shawn and Trevor that idea that “Man, being a respectful, kind person does go a long way. Why is it so hard to give into that?” It’s a lot more clear now, seeing these two people who have these different relationships toward basic etiquette. It’s interesting to see how people are reacting to it. When I was writing it, it seems like something one takes for granted and everyone knows, but now, there’s proof that you don’t need to behave respectfully toward anyone.
Speaking of that, how did you get inside Trevor’s head? Some of the things he says to Alice and other women are pretty terrible.
Paul Cameron Hardy: I’m interested in this idea and empathy and that being empathetic doesn’t mean we condone all behavior. To be more empathetic is to know when and how to not condone all behavior. I’m interested in part of Trevor being this blown out realization of—At one point Alice says, “he’s the reason developing minds shouldn’t watch pornography.” I have no interest in making any media that condemns pornography as wholesale “bad.” I’m interested in different people’s ability to separate reality from fiction. A lot of the things he says, it’s just like “This is kind of carrying on the narrative of the way people speak to each other in pornography or the way we hear people speak to each other in the locker room.” The idea that “I can say whatever I want and behave in my darkest ways. I’m not actually being serious right?” I think a lot of the talk of race and the way that race is seen in the play is so compartmentalized and fetishized in pornography. He sees Alice as Asian and Asian girls have a big following. Then Sean is black. Even Sean and Alice, there’s this question of “How do we identity with our backgrounds be it socio-economic and ethnic background?” Keeping it as a part of yourself, but not letting it become a fetishized, wholesale way of selling yourself. Getting into Trevor’s head was just imagining someone who believes all of the worst media that we’re fed, be it in movie, TV, porn or music. Someone who lets inform their worldview. It is weird to hear it. Sometimes now, I’ll hear bits of it. It’s rough to hear, and how it’s gotten rougher to hear after the election. I remember the first stint when we were rehearsing, there’s a scene at the end in the hallway where he’s talking to Alice and he calls her “beautiful.” He says he deserves one fuck with someone who’s nice and beautiful. I remember the first few times hearing Trevor say the word “beautiful” after 90 minutes of how he speaks, it’s almost as jarring as any of the crass shit he says. I became very interested in that and what that means and how weird that is.
This could have been the director but, did you have any say in those transitions where the porn actors help Trevor change scenes?
Paul Cameron Hardy: 100% percent the director R.J. Tolan. He did such a great job directing the play and finding play in it. He had a really clear idea from the jump that he wanted to do something with that. They’re fun and moments of respite from the drama, but they also tell the story so clearly. The first moment when he doesn’t get help in a transition is super jarring, so those are all R.J. Tolan.