Total ringers

Phone-sex operators dialed in to human emotions


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If you’re an actor, you’ve probably heard the jokes about how an acting career prepares you for a lifetime of waiting tables.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/07/2016 (2217 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If you’re an actor, you’ve probably heard the jokes about how an acting career prepares you for a lifetime of waiting tables.

A couple of actors with solo shows at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival have a different experience of extra-thespian gigs: phone sex.

In fact, Tonya Jone Miller, from Portland, Ore., has worked as a phone-sex operator for more than a decade and still does. Her show, A Story of O’s at Venue 3 (Playhouse Studio), is a partially improvised memoir of her years working the phone.

JON GOTTSHALL PHOTO A Story of O's is a partially improvised memoir by Tonya Jone Miller.

Miller, 41, took the job while in acting school and found phone sex actually augmented her acting, and vice versa.

“Being an actor obviously makes me better at the phone,” she says. “I’m trained. I went to a conservatory, I know how to do different voices. I know how to play a character convincingly.

“But I think the thing that people don’t think about is that doing phone sex makes me a better actor. On the phone, you have to do and say things that you would never do or say off the phone, and really make it believable and really sell it.

JOSEPH STE-MARIE PHOTO Cameryn Moore returns to the fringe with a different show, a fictionalized confessional based on her own erotic obsession with nerds, called Nerdf*ucker.

“Very few people are able to talk about something convincingly if it makes them want to puke,” she says. “I’m trained, and my directors always tell me I’m fearless because there’s nothing they can ask me to say or do on stage that’s more outrageous or more bizarre. Usually, there’s the fear of looking stupid, and I don’t have that, because if I have that fear on the phone, I wouldn’t be good at what I do.

“I think phone sex is inherently theatrical, mostly because it’s an extended erotic improv, if you look at it that way.”

It helps that, however outrageous the fantasies she helps spin, Miller is sympathetic to her callers’ need for connection.

“My mom’s a therapist, she’s very sex-positive and a hippie,” Miller says with a smile. “So sex was always a natural thing for me, and when I started doing phone sex, it became clear to me that it was as much about the phone, the connection, as it was about the sex. The guys are calling to get a fantasy, but underneath that, what they’re calling for is acceptance, and to not be judged.”


While Miller was still formulating a play about phone sex, she saw a fringe work in her native Portland that inspired her ambition.

The play was Phone Whore by Cameryn Moore.

“I loved the show and it rang true because there were moments where I was going: ‘Oh yes, only a phone sex operator would know that,’” she recalls.

“But it was also clear to me that we have had very different kinds of experiences.”

The Boston-based Moore, 45, is returning to the fringe with a different show, a fictionalized confessional based on her own erotic obsession with nerds, called Nerdf*ucker, at Red River College, Venue 11.

Moore, also from Oregon, was a food journalist in northern California. Writing and solo performance came immediately after taking the gig of phone sex “in the spring of 2009, and the recession was hitting hard and I got laid off from my job in marketing at a textbook publishing company and there were no other jobs.

“I started doing it because I was desperate and I kept doing it because I was really good at it,” Moore says.

“I had to stay at home and be on call for long periods of time, so I had vast stretches of time where I was trapped in my house. They say to write about what you know, and when your world shrinks to a 12-by-12 room with a bed and an armchair and a phone with strangers’ voices on the other end, that’s your subject at hand,” she says of the inspiration behind Phone Whore.

“I knew that a fringe festival was the only place where a play like this, with content like this, could be presented and get a fair shake,” she says. “I believe the closest performance art to phone sex is improv. Oddly enough, in traditional theatre improv, I’m kind of crap at it.

“But it is very close to improv. The funny thing is that the fellow on the other end of the line is both a fellow improv-er and audience.”

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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