Jeffrey Jay Fowler chats about his play ‘Dick Pics in the Garden of Eden’

Jeffrey Jay Fowler has established himself as one of Australia’s most interesting playwrights and performers, having created many memorable works over the last decade.

As a core member of the Last Great Hunt theatrical group, he’s presented challenging and innovative works, and his newest play is set to continue that tradition. Graeme Watson chatted to Jeffrey Jay Fowler about his latest work, the provocatively titled, Dick Pics in the Garden of Eden.

Where did it come from? What was the spark of inspiration?

It was early 2017, when I very first began to actually, just prior to the #metoo movement. I was thinking about the incongruence, particularly in the heterosexual world, between men and whether women want to receive dick pics.

I thought, how far back has this been going on, that men had been wanting something that women don’t want, or told not to want? Why do men and women have different disgust mechanisms, and particularly, as a gay man, I was thinking about how very different it is in the gay world.

It’s highly normal in the age of Grindr for people to send dick pics, I don’t think anyone would raise an eyebrow if they were sent one or found out that a friend was sending one. I’ve got straight female friends who do receive dick pics and enjoy that when they’re requested.

I was thinking about these things, and what was the first dick pic? I obviously don’t think it would have been Adam from the Garden of Eden, but I was thinking about the origins of the incompatibilities between men and women, which I find very amusing to be honest.

Then #metoo happened, and I thought, “Ooh, this jovial tongue in cheek men and women – probably quite outdated – sexist comedy that I have as a draft in my computer might need to go in a new direction.”

I started to think about the real meaning of how women are being treated and how men are being treated. Obviously, the #metoo movement exists within the queer world as well. It’s not really restrained to the heterosexual world. I wanted to look at the origins, the origins of conservatism, the origins of the boundaries around what we are, and aren’t allowed to do.

I’m not a religious person, nor do I have religious parents, but when I went to primary school, they still taught you about Jesus and Adam and Eve, and we sang Christian songs. I went to a religious High School. I had still actually absorbed a lot of the myths, and I think when I became sexually active I had already developed quite a severe sense of shame.

Just around sex, I thought virginity was a very important thing, I thought that being gay was wrong, which obviously is less of a thing for young men, young queer people these days, but still absolutely in some cultures, towns or families, a problem. It was like this huge slew of themes and ideas and jokes that had been in my head for a long, long time. I’ve waiting so long to distill it down into the play that it currently is.

Would you normally take that kind of time in constructing a play? Do some come quickly, and some take longer? Is there a standard timeframe for you?

Some do come quicker. I think the quickest I’ve ever made a play was when I was co-writing with Chris Isaak, and we were making Fag/Stag. We spent summer hanging out a lot going to the beach, having pints and thinking about facts back and then actually drawing it into a script.

The process was really probably only two weeks, extremely quick. By the time we went to write it, we knew the characters, we knew the form and it’s quite great when you have another person to kind of buddy up with. We really knew what we wanted from that play. I think that because we were speaking from such a position of personal authority, and that I was playing, a gay man in his 20s living in Perth, and Chris being a straight man living in his 20s living in Perth, that it was close enough to home to move quite quickly.

In Dick Pics in the Garden of Eden, I’m not only looking at queer sexuality, but I’m also looking at the institution of marriage, particularly heterosexual marriage, particularly the marriages of the women of the generation above me, particularly women who stayed in marriages because they felt like they had to.

There’s been a lot of responsibility and a lot of workshopping with other actors and a lot of time between developments where I’ve had to rethink. Also, the world has been shifting at an incredible pace.

I had begun just before the #metoo movement, and then I read this very fascinating article about Johnny Depp and Amber Heard only this year that said with the trial the #metoo movement is officially over, looking at how this woman has been put on trial by social media.

My opinions on that trial are kind of irrelevant, but the fact that over the last five years the world has shifted politically at terrific rates and much has changed. I was kind of writing a play on sinking sand, so to speak. There’s lots of reasons why it’s taken so long, but it’s been the right thing to do because, even now, I think I’m just ready to put this play on stage.

It’s interesting, you talk about how the queer community, it is more acceptable, way more open to someone sending us an unsolicited picture of their genitalia. But I think we’ve come so much further now.

I go on Twitter, and I see people I know posting themselves having sex. I have that debate you’re talking about. I find myself asking; Is this a positive thing? Is this a negative thing? Is this great freedom? Is this right? Is this wrong? I find it very challenging; I think it’s about how old we are.

I am challenged by it as well. I think that everybody has an internal battle between sex positivity and sex negativity. And certainly, every character in my play is marked on a spectrum of sex positive or sex negative. You know, I’m like, “Wow, people have Only Fans” or “People just put things out there for free.”  Once upon a time, it would have been a guilty thrill to send or receive a photo.

The pornographisation of the world is fascinating. I still remember 2007 Kim Kardashian is globally shamed for having a sex tape, but then she becomes a celebrity. I remember the film Notting Hill in 1997 with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, I was actually rewatching it with my boyfriend one night while I was writing this play.

The key turning point that they use in the romantic comedy formula is that a shirtless photo of Julia Roberts is leaked, and it’s so shameful that she goes into hiding, and Hugh Grant forgives her for having had a naked photo taken when she was a young person. That is how they get back together.

Remember, Ginger Spice’s topless photoshoot coming out, and she had to apologise, she had to apologize to the world that a photo had been taken of her topless. The rate at which we are becoming more comfortable or accepting of the naked body and of images of sex, it’s extreme, it’s going extremely fast – but at the same time, there’s a huge rise in conservatism and so it’s a fascinating battle between these two poles.

Not far away, in the same time zone as Perth, there’s a case in Singapore where Titus Low is being fined and sent to jail for putting up nudes on his OnlyFans account. 

It’s fascinating to me how different cultures have different mandates on how much you should and shouldn’t cover up your body. Man or woman, it’s often more oppressive of women obviously. That’s a that’s a fascinating case and we’re living in a fascinating world.

I think we’re all we’re all animals, why is the body improper? Why is sex discreet? Why do we keep it so separate? Why is it normalised, that seeing someone naked is an offence.

Now I’m certainly not saying everyone should get out there and flash people or make anyone see anything they don’t want to see, but I’m fascinated that the human body is seen as so offensive and so vile, and that sex, a completely normal bodily function is quite demonised.

If you go into the religious roots of it, of course, once upon a time, if you had sex out of wedlock, you could have died of syphilis, you could have had an unwanted child, that could have totally shifted the path of your life. Sex used to be lethal, and so then there’s all this religion around why sex is lethal. Sex is bad. God doesn’t want you to do it. You know, if you’ve got syphilis before we understood what syphilis was, I’m sure you thought you were being punished by God.

But all that’s gone, the actual threats are gone. We have antibiotics, we have contraception, you know, we have Prep these days, but the sex negativity remains the fear remains, and you still have contemporary speakers, you have Jordan Peterson, coming out and saying, “Well, sex is a very dangerous thing”. And he never really justifies why sex is a dangerous thing.

What’s dangerous about sex, if you have the proper protection, the proper understanding of how it works, you know, where babies come from, and you know where STIs come from, and how to clear them up, fix them or prevent them? What’s the problem? Where’s the danger?

People keep taking that narrative, “Yep, sex is dangerous, full stop.” I’m fascinated by that.

How do you think someone who holds their faith as a very important part of their life will find your play?

I’m very interested in the myths that have got us where we are, and I when I say that; I mean like Adam and Eve. I think a lot of Christians don’t take thatas a literal story, some do. I understand that.

This play, it’s not about skewering religion. It’s not a takedown of Christianity, and it is not about whether someone does or doesn’t have religious belief. It’s actually about the byproducts of those beliefs.

It’s about the belief that the body is shameful. It’s about the belief that sex has to be between a man and a woman, not in Australia, but still prevalent in some parts of the world. The belief that sex should only be within the institution of marriage.

I’m not Christian. I’m not really interested in people’s personal faith. What I’m interested in is where beliefs affect how happy we are and affect how we oppress ourselves. I think we have a couple of Christian people working on the show, and I don’t think they have any problem with it. It doesn’t talk about the church. It’s not about any of that. It’s really just about sexual shame.

The story of Adam and Eve, in my telling of it, they get kicked out of the Garden of Eden but they’re ejected straight to a place called the Garden of Suburbia, which is pretty much like modern life circa 2017. The family are actually not practicing Christians, like Adam’s still very angry at God that he got kicked out of Eden, so he doesn’t go to church. My play isn’t about skewering Christianity. That would be a whole other work, and probably not one that I feel I need to make.

Dick Pics in the Garden of Eden has its world premiere on Wednesday 16th November and runs through until 3rd December at Subiaco Arts Centre. Tickets are on sale now.  


Graeme Watson 

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