Sex ed takes the stage

Sex ed takes the stage

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The stage version of the best-selling book “Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man” by Dan Anderson and Maggie Berman makes its Philadelphia debut at the Kimmel Center Feb. 9-11. This month, the play is celebrating its third year off-Broadway.

The book was written in Philadelphia in 1996 when Dan Anderson gave his single friend Maggie Berman some pointers on dating. The tip sessions were helpful and the friends joked about turning their conversations into a book. They eventually contacted an agent and publisher through some mutual friends and the rest, as they say, is history.       

“Sex Tips,” published in 1997, sold more than 300,000 copies in the United States, and has been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, German and French. There are also British and Australian editions.

On the phone from Palm Springs, where he now lives, Anderson spoke with PGN about the book-turned-play.

PGN: What can audiences expect from the stage production?

DA: It’s a very-fun 80 minutes. The set-up has Robin, a straight woman, teaching at a college. She’s a successful academic, but does not have success with men. She’s forced to take over this “meet the author” program at the college and she’s thrust into this situation where the author is Dan Anderson. The third character is Stefan, the sexy college tech guy, who is an Eastern-European émigré. Dan sees the sexual tension between Robin and Stefan, so Dan builds up Robin’s confidence, and teaches her how to flirt and how to handle a penis.

PGN: How did the play come about?

DA: This guy, Matt Murphy, who produced the show “Memphis,” which won a bunch of Tony Awards in 2010, was trying to develop a seminar-type sex play. His wife told him about “Sex Tips” and he optioned it, and hired a writer. It went through different incarnations. There were a couple of staged readings before the current version opened in February 2014.

PGN: What involvement, if any, did you have with the stage production?

DA: We have credits as script consultants, and we read the script and offered input as it was being developed.

PGN: Did they take any of your notes?

DA: Not much, but it was fun to say, “Dan would never say this!” It was like Hollywood: “We love your notes … then into the trash!”

PGN: Speaking of Hollywood, has there been interest in making a film version?

DA: It made the rounds. But it never got optioned for a film. [Our publisher] was trying to develop something for a film.

PGN: What are some of the tips that can be revealed without spoiling too much?

DA: There’s the whole “Up, Twist, Ove, and Down,” from the book on how to handle a man’s penis. How to handle the balls is a good part. Dan [in the play] drags three women from the audience on stage and they wear these sleep masks that drop down from the ceiling. He guides them through hand motions. It’s very funny. 

PGN: What can you say about the audience-interaction element?

DA: In the productions I’ve seen, the guy who plays Dan is very funny and quick; he is good at ad-libbing with audience members. Someone asked him, “What if you pick someone and they don’t want to go on stage?” and he said, “That’s actually never happened.” Maybe that’s just New Yorkers wanting to bask in attention. Most audience members jump up and have a really good time.

PGN: How do you think your book has contributed to the way sex is discussed now versus 20 years ago?

DA: I don’t know that I can attribute that to the book. For good or ill, we’ve used cute terms [in the book] to make it avoid making sex sound too clinical. A lot of the language we used you see in magazines, so in that sense it brought out that it was OK to joke about sex while still being helpful. It didn’t have to be a freighted thing, or a serious topic. You could use silly terms, and that took away some of the anxiety people had about talking about sex. It was more lighthearted and it encouraged women to be more like a gay man.

PGN: What observations do you have on the straight girl/gay guy dynamic?

DA: It’s still an important thing. Teenagers now have gay best friends in high school. There’s something special about it. You can be close but there’s no competition or jealousy, or the sex aspect. In some ways, it enables gay men and straight women to have close friendships. n

“Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man” runs Feb. 9-11 at the Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St. For tickets and information, visit https://www.kimmelcenter.org/pdp-pages/201617/kimmel-center-presents/sex-tips-for-straight-women-from-a-gay-man/.


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