Feminist Erotica 1.4 — Interview: Allison Grischow on Performance & Authenticity

allison

In this episode, Jera talks to Allison Grischow, a queer actor based in Chicago and vocal talent with ConsensualPod, a steamy fiction romance podcast for riot grlls. In this episode you’ll hear:

  • How Allison got into acting 0:58
  • All about ConsensualPod 4:44
  • Performing erotica with just a voice (disembodied) 7:08
  • Erotica and sensuality including a mindful build-up vs jumping straight to the explicit content. Sexiness as authenticity. 8:41
  • What is erotica? A genre based on the intent of the story and what the climax of the story is. A lense to look at the world through. 11:54
  • Queerness as a journey. The pull to “perform” queerness and how to stay authentic. 18:26
  • How to make choices as an actor/artist about what projects feel true to one’s desires, authentic, and healthy. 23:34
  • How ConsensualPod authentically centered consent in a fictional romance 26:34
  • The work of Joyful Actor, including voice-over work (perfect for romance and erotica writers wanting to do their own narrations!) 30:20
  • On the importance of giving voice to one’s desires and learning how to hear what they are 33:15

Find the episode on Anchor or Spotify, or Apple Podcasts. Listen to the entire episode here or read the transcript.

Allison is offering Feminist Erotica listeners 25% off your voiceover or vocal coaching lesson. To take advantage of this offer, email allison@thejoyfulactor.com and mention this podcast!

Transcript from the episode

Intro: Welcome to Feminist Erotica, a podcast from Rebellious Magazine for Women. Join Jera, Karen and Princess for stimulating interviews that explore feminist representations of desire as well as short and sweet erotic snippets read by the authors themselves. This episode is sponsored by Just the Tip, Rebellious Magazine’s inclusive sex and relationship advice column, where you’ll find interviews with sexuality researchers and educators, as well as compassionate responses to anonymous questions. Check it out at rebelliousmagazine.com/just-the-tip.

Jera: I am Jera. I’m one of the cohosts of Feminist Erotica. And today I’m talking to Allison Grischow. Allison is a Chicago-based actor, improvisor, musician, voiceover artists, and aerialist. And I’m going to put up their entire bio on the site, but we first heard about Allison through the ConsensualPod podcast, and in the podcast, Allison is the voice of Ingrid Wheeler. And you get to hear all about Ingrid Wheeler’s unexpected romance with someone from their past. Allison is also the founder of the small business, The Joyful Actor, which offers acting classes and coaching. And she believes that actors and creatives deserve to find joy in their work and create practices that are sustainable and fun. So, Allison, can we start out just by telling us a little bit about your history as an actor?

Allison: Sure. I totally can. Yeah, actually, as a kid growing up, my sister, my younger sister, and I would write plays and perform them in our basement, we would make skits and sketches that were primarily based off of the Amanda Show if you watch that at all. So we were definitely inspired by Amanda Bynes’s comedy and just total quirkiness and weirdness, you know. So I think that’s one of the things that initially drew me to being an actor was just getting to create with kids and friends in my basement and seeing the amazing things that came out of like all of our ideas when we put them all together. And I just fell in love with making people laugh and bringing people joy and showing up. Bringing whatever I had as a person to a role is something that I am always falling in love with again and again as an actor.

So I majored in music and theater in college. I initially majored in music education with a theater minor and then found myself on a trip to London to see a bunch of theater on a spring break and realized I could not, not be an actor. I just wanted to be a part of that world so,so much. And so I double majored in music and theater and then moved out to Chicago without a job. And that’s not entirely true. I had a job as a teaching artist with Emerald City Theater, but anyone who’s a teaching artist knows that that can be an inconsistent part of your career as much as being an actor can. So it was not a consistent job, but um … And then have pursued it for the past five years in Chicago. And I, I love it.

Jera: And your sister Becca also lives in Chicago, right?

Allison: She does. Yes. Roger’s Park.

Jera: Oh nice. That’s where I live too. It’s so weird to me right now like so many people that we’re connecting with on the podcast live in Chicago and we can’t get together.

Allison: I know, like in an ideal world, we could record this podcast in person and totally together so easily someday.

Jera: Yeah. So did Becca follow you or did you follow her or was it an accident?

Allison: I moved to Chicago first and she did follow, yes. But I think, you know, my sister and I, we’re very, very close, and I think we’re just drawn to being together. And being in the same city is definitely a nice thing. So I hope that we get that throughout the rest of our lives in some capacity.

Jera: We’re bringing up Allison’s sister because Becca is a big part of ConsensualPod. What’s Becca’s role again?

Allison: Becca is actually the founder of ConsensualPod. It’s her baby. She brought it to life, but she brought on board, her good friend and fellow romance, ghostwriter, Rachel Borgo, and also Amelia J Rose, the author of Ten Week Turnabout, their first book or first podcast or audio series. It’s hard to figure out how best to label it. But yeah, they are a team together, but yes, Becca started ConsensualPod.

Jera: And it’s becoming a book, right?

Allison: Yeah. Ten Week Turnabout is already an audio series on Spotify and Apple podcasts, but they’re going to have a novella of it as well for those of us who’d prefer to read.

Jera: And it’s so cool that you get to work with your sister on this project, and I’m assuming that she brought you into the podcast.

Allison: She did. Yeah. I remember she told me when she first had this idea and she said, ‘I’d really love for you to be a part of it as a voice actor,’ because I’ve done a lot of that voiceover commercial work and some audio series and character work. And initially she shared it with, I don’t actually know if she has shared the story before, but she shared with Rachel because I know Rachel — we went to college together and did theater together as well — that she was interested in casting me as Ingrid, the lead character. And Rachel was like, ‘I don’t know, Allison’s so sweet. Like, I don’t know if I can see her playing this part.’ And Becca showed her my voiceover reel and Rachel was like, ‘Oh, I think she could do it.’

So it has been, I mean, a little bit of a stretch of character because Ingrid is definitely a bit more aloof than I would say I am. And I think a little less vulnerable, more guarded as well. I’m really quick to be like, ‘here’s my heart. ‘And Ingrid is a little more like ‘I have my walls and I put them up to keep me safe,’ but I can definitely relate to her big city dreams of following her career path and not wanting to let anything get in the way. I definitely relate to that determination as an actor as well.

Jera: So ConsensualPod is a fictional romance told over a 10 week period [correction: 13 weeks] and it gets sexy. So is it the first time that you’ve performed something that sexual, or are you old hat?

Allison: You know, that’s such an interesting question. It is the first time I’ve done voiceover content of the sexual nature. I’ve definitely been in intimate scenes on stage in Chicago theater. I did a show at the Factory Theater that had some onstage intimacy and I’ve had other shows where I’ve had, you know, moments of making out or touching with other actors and that sort of thing. But in terms of just using my voice — not my body and my voice — to portray those intimate sexual situations, it is the first time I’ve done that. So, yeah, it’s interesting when you take the body away and you’re just focused on the sound of your voice you really get in tune with what sounds your body makes, and I’d say Consensual kind of leans … If you listen to the podcast … We’re not making all of the sounds that are happening during sex, but you can hear in our voices like the desire and the breath, you know, that is a part of that experience. So, so yeah.

Jera: I think, this podcast has erotica in the label and erotica is known for being explicit. But I think that a lot of the pursuit of eroticism in literature and in the arts, it’s not always explicit. It’s often about the lead-up and making the lead-up part of that sensuality, of that desire.

Allison: Yeah. I definitely agree. I think you just said this, but I’m just agreeing, like I do think that lead up is a part of that for sure. In a real-world experience as well. It’s part of the wanting, it’s part of what makes an experience so exciting if and when it does happen. So yeah. It’s like when you unwrap like a really good piece of chocolate and you do it like slowly and you can smell it and like, then finally you like take a small, slow bite. It’s so much more enjoyable than just being like, you know, the mindfulness of it.

Jera: It’s like the strawberry exercise.

Allison Yeah. Oh my God. I definitely had a therapist who gave me one of those mindfulness recordings. Oneof them was like … The raisin and put the raisin in your mouth. And I think as a voiceover actor, I was particularly resistant to just the voice on the other end. I was like, ‘I know what you’re doing and I feel manipulated by this,’ but yeah, it totally makes me think of those mindfulness exercises. I do. I’m totally all for mindfulness. I don’t want to come off. Like, I’m not …

Jera: And part of it is, I guess, if it sounds authentic or like you said, you feel manipulated, right? It’s a different experience.

Allison: And that is such a good point, and probably something that is worth thinking about a lot as an actor is if people feel like you’re acting as a voice actor or otherwise, you can tend to feel manipulated. Finding ways to be like really in the moment, really present — and that can be challenging, I think with depicting a sex scene, whether it’s or anything erotic, whether it’s through your voice or on stage with your whole being — is making sure you have a safe space to do that. Cause you’re not going to be able to be authentic and fully present if you don’t feel safe. And I’m grateful that my sister and the team that she really made that a priority and really made it clear that, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to be doing. There is explicit material here. We might giggle about it. Sometimes it might make us uncomfortable, but this is what it is, and nobody’s going to be in the room except the people that need to be when we’re recording this.’ So yeah, I think having that safety does create authenticity, which is amazing to think about.

Jera: Yeah, it is, Oh, there’s so many rabbit holes. I’d love to ask about your relationship with the male voice talent. I shared some questions beforehand and I want to keep these in mind and then we can go in whatever direction. But as we were talking, andwhen I say we, I mean the team behind Feminist Erotica, we have been talking to Becca about how to partner with ConsensualPod. And this interview, this episode is the first part of that. But as we were talking about interviewing you, one of the things that came out was that this is not erotica as it is normally considered. I think people tend to think of it being text-based and something that’s in your head. And instead this is an erotic story that is performed. And then we started thinking, well, what, what is erotica when it’s performed? Like, does it still fit into the erotica category? Something we’ve been exploring is just what makes something erotica? And then I started thinking about cabaret and burlesque — these very sensual performances. So I’m curious what your thoughts are about like what makes something erotica and what makes something erotic?

Allison: Yeah, that’s an excellent question. And in thinking I have totally been, if I just limit it to like erotica as something that turns you on or gets you like aroused. Like I have totally been aroused by like the most mundane or like obscure things that I never would have expected, that weren’t with the intention of arousing me. Right. So I think when I think about what makes erotica erotica, I do think that intention is important — that intention to arouse or that intention to deal with the themes of sex and sexuality.

Allison: And when I think about it, I think of erotica as a genre. Is that correct? Do you think?

Jera: I think so. II’ve questioned whether it’s only that, but it’s definitely a genre.

Allison: Yeah. So when I think about like different genres of like television or film or books, or really any artistic media, whether it’s performative or written or otherwise, I think of it as these genres are giving us lenses from which to look through at the world. So like science fiction is a lens of looking specifically at life and our relationship, the human relationship with science and technology,. But sex probably exists in most science fiction worlds as well and like love exists. I don’t know … All sorts of different adventure exists. So I guess I like to about it as, when I’m looking at a romance text, it’s just another lens. Or erotica — it’s just another lens of looking at the world, except instead of focusing on adventure or scifi or — now, I can’t think of any genres of course — history! Instead of focusing on those things, it’s focusing on sex and sexuality and pleasure and desire and has the intent of bringing those ideas to the forefront. That’s kind of the way I think of it. And then, Oh, go ahead.

Jera: No, I was just going to agree. I really liked the idea of intent. What were you going to say?

Allison: Well, and then I was just going to say the means through which that happens is almost somehow secondary to me. Like, of course it’s powerful and I think different ways of performing and different ways of telling a story that has its lens on sexual themes or erotic themes may have different effects, but ultimately I think that intent and those scenes are at the heart of it. And then there are many ways to accomplish that.

Jera: Yeah. So I worked on a few erotic stories and then I’ve been working on a novel, which I thought was going to be erotica, and then it was romance, and now it’s mystery thriller that has a lot of sex in it. And as I was looking at how I write this, I want it to fit the niche that I’m writing it for. And I was looking at how other things were placed. And part of it is the amount of time a story spends on any given thing, like does the story spend more time developing characters or more time uncovering the mystery? And I think that that fits within the intent, like what is the intent of the writer and the readers going into it?

Another thing is then, what is the climax? So is the climax literally an orgasm, is the climax discovering who did it? Or in romance, I think the climax is not the sex, but is generally that moment when you know the couples going to stay together.

Allison: That’s really beautifully said, I love that.

Jera: There’s all these words, like this is a steamy romance or whatever the opposite of a steamy romance. So with the story that you’ve been telling that you told through the first season of Consensual, but it’s a romance, right? What do you think that, what do you think the intent was behind it?

Allison: Yeah, I do think, I do think it’s a romance for sure. Yeah. And especially when you, not only because Becca and Rachel have labeled it as such, but also as we’ve been speaking in terms of like, where’s the climax, the climax is certainly when, you know they’re going to continue to be together. And the sex is definitely like, it’s there and it’s great, but it’s also very much so about their relationships as people and as humans and the things that bring them together and the things that tear them apart, which I, as an actor, I love relationships. I love stories that really dig deep into how relationship reflects what it means to be human. So I really enjoyed that in this project.

Jera: The other question that I had that I posed to you … This is such a no, no. You’re not supposed to ask people how they identify. Your sister said that you were queer. Is that the best word to identify you?

Allison: I really identify with the word queer in particular. I also identify with pansexual. I think I identify with the word, non-binary. Sorry, I’m just being super vulnerable and honest on this podcast. I use she/her and they/them pronouns, and those both seem like they really feel right to me. I think the word nonbinary is something I identify as well, but I’ll be honest with you and whoever’s listening that I’m kind of on that journey right now. And so the word queer itself feels like it encapsulates some of those things and yeah.

Jera: So I can be vulnerable back. I use queer as shorthand. I also identify as pansexual and then gender is just a lot harder. Yeah. I currently identify as genderfluid and sometimes feel like nonbinary encapsulates that. And sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t use the word nonbinary. But yeah. And for me, I think part of my gender identity is that who I’m talking to, the people that I’m around, very much influences how I relate to my own gender. So sometimes somebody calling me by they, or just seeing me as a more masculine person or whatever feels like I connect to them better in that way; whereas, sometimes like this whole idea of womanliness feels more like I’m communing with them through that. So it very much depends, but I think there’s a whole history of like the study of queerness and dialogue around queerness as being performative. Like what does it mean to enact queerness? And so I’m curious then about your own journey as a queer person and an actor, like how does it relate to, to be on this journey as a queer person and an actor? Do they both feel performative or how do you make the performance of your own identity into something that’s authentic?

Allison: Yeah. Well, I mean, to go backwards, I think the only person who can really know when something’s authentic is you. And so I really, whenever I’m putting something out into the world, I just ask myself, does this feel right? Do I want to say this out loud? Do I want to share this? Does this ring true to me in this moment? And if not, I choose not to put it out there knowing full well that I think, speaking of performative, there’s a lot of pressure, I think in a time where so much is recorded and so much is hosted publicly to have a fixed idea of who you are and an idea of what you’re putting out into the world as who you are. But I don’t believe even though there’s pressure to do that, I don’t believe that’s necessary. I don’t think we’re fixed beings. I think we grow and evolve and I think that’s wonderful. And I think as long as we are coming from that place of, I want to put this out there and I want us to share this. And it rings true with who I am, if that changes, it changes. But yeah, there is a lot of pressure to perform queerness. And especially as someone — my partner is a cis male, and so there are times where I feel a pull to have to justify and defend or perform my pansexuality and my queerness in some way to somehow prove something. And so back to that question of does it feel like it rings true with me and do I want to do this? I guess those are the two questions I brought up. I always have to go back there when I’m putting something out that is out into the world that relates to my queerness and relates to those parts of me.

I ask those questions and say, am I doing this for me? Or am I doing this for somebody else? If I’m doing it for somebody else in that I want to share my true experience so that perhaps it can empower someone else to do the same, I’m down with that. But if I’m doing it, if I’m performing it to try to change somebody’s opinion of what they believe about me, I don’t have any control over that. So I hope that answers your question.

Jera: When I studied writing in school, something we talk a lot about is honesty in the arts. Does what you’re writing have a hidden agenda or is it true to itself in fiction? Like, Do you feel true to the story that wants to be told? And I wonder then as an actor, when you’re taking on these roles and you don’t necessarily get to decide then the intent behind the story, but there’s still some choice in what you’re putting out there. How do you make those choices?

Allison: That is an excellent question. And I think it is extra important during this time with the pandemic too. I think because it is harder to get out and do work safely as actors right now, we’ve really been asked and are asking ourselves to step back and say, which of these projects, one either align with my idea of what feels safe right now, of course, in terms of those values, but also what is the story that I’m putting out there through this project? And is that something I’m going to stand by? And that is worth me even doing a little bit of risk, you know, of course you hope that risk is limited because, and I have bound covert boundaries with what sets I’m comfortable going on right now, of course. But I do think it really like puts a magnifying glass to that question. You’re asking to anyone who’s listening to this, who’s an actor, but I guess any creatives in general, like, I just want to say like take the power back.

You can choose, you can choose to say yes and you can choose to say no. If a project is telling a story that doesn’t align with your values, you don’t have to say yes to it please. Don’t I feel like there’s a lot of pressure sometimes on actors and maybe on writers as well. I’m sure we could talk about this to just like get work, but you know, consensual, I love their values. I love that Baca is all about making sure that feminism is at the forefront front and consent is at the forefront. If I am asked to do a project that is glorifying rape or nonconsensual sex, I don’t want to give my voice and my being and my essence and my time to that project. And I’ve stepped away from projects before, because I felt like either the way in which they were running a room disrespectfully, or I was being treated a certain way by a director that was either sexually harassing me or just something that felt uncomfortable. Or I could just tell as I read the script or even a show that it wasn’t going to be something that I wanted my name attached to.

Jera: Right. So let let’s talk about consent and authenticity. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on how the podcast and the story did it well, and did it in a unique way. I think a lot of us, as we’re figuring out how to be more enthusiastic about consent and more direct and candid about consent, for some of us that grew up maybe before these were major talking points, there was a lot of “understood” consent and not direct consent. And then learning how to give voice to it can feel like this very halted, stumbling process, which you want to give voice to that desire, but you’re also giving voice to consent and they can feel awkward. So I guess that’s my personal, that’s what I often think of about how the to make consent authentic, but you can respond to that, or just, what was your experience about the intent of consent in the podcast? Because it’s in the name.

Allison: Yeah, well, I think intent is great because it breeds awareness for sure. So as we were we’re recording, because we knew that was part of our intent. We were always looking out. I mean, Amelia did a beautiful job of writing it into the text in creative and authentic, I believe ways in which I’ve some of which I’ve seen play out, like in consent in my life too. So, but also as performers, we were also aware like, is this explicitly consensual here? And if there ever was a moment where we felt like something’s unclear or something, isn’t in line with those values, we would address that. And that’s not to say that these characters aren’t flawed, they are.

And I actually was just having a conversation with a friend who’s an avid romance reader the other day about how she likes her romance to be. Does she want to see this ideal, perfect world? That’s, you know, the guy or the other person is totally feminist and always does the right thing, whatever that may be. What is that anyway? Or do you want to see some of the flaws and I think both are totally possible. But yeah, just knowing like what values are there and then recognizing that your characters can still be flawed. There is a moment in the podcast where Noah makes a sexist comment, but it’s acknowledged that like, ‘Hey, that’s not okay to talk that way about women,’ and I think that’s really interesting to not have it be a hundred percent the world we want to see, but have it be our world, but engage with it in the ways that we want to engage with it and point those out so we can talk about them, I think is really exciting.

Jera: What’s coming up next. Are you involved in the second season?

Allison: I am. Yes. So the second season is Cleo, Ingrid’s best friend’s story. And Cleo is actually actually an actor played by my friend, Nadia Pelletier, who is a hoot and a half. I love her so much. Doing our scenes together is probably most authentic you’ll hear any of Consensual: shooting the shit as friends. But yes, it’s Cleo story and Ingrid is a small part of that. So, I’ll be there.

Jera: What else are you, what else are you doing right now? Is the joyful, I just lost the name of it. The Joyful Actor, right?

Allison: Yes, that’s right.

Jera: Are you doing classes for Joyful?

Allison: I just finished a boot camp called Now What? A Chicago actors boot camp, which was all about helping actors that are either new to the Chicago market or are wanting to get back into acting, get their footing and feel really empowered both in their business knowledge of being an actor and what that entails, but also just in their mindset and their values. Like we’re talking about really emphasizing self-care from a mental and physical perspective and also emphasizing finding the work that you really want to do as opposed to the work that you feel like you should do, or just getting lost in this shuffle of like what it was, you know, what, what should I do? I do I have to do it all? And the answer is no, but, but yeah, we just had an awesome boot camp talking about all those things. And our students came out of it, like so excited and feeling really empowered. So I’m really excited to see what happens next for them and their careers. Actually, one of our actors already booked something just coming out of boot camp, which is great. But yeah we offer actor coaching all the time. I coach on voiceover; I coach on generally acting, auditioning, all those sorts of things. And also if you want to get more into the mindset, the work/money mindset, money management, signing the works that you get really excited about, I do individual coaching on that as well. And then I also have four other teachers that teach with Joyful Actor that are amazing. So that’s something we’re always offering. And then we’ll see, we’ll see if another boot camp pops up.

Jera: Love it. And thinking about like the audience for this specific podcast. I, I’m pretty sure that there’s quite a few listeners that are readers and writers of erotica. And actually one of the things that I know a lot of writers of erotica get stuck on is how to record their own work. Yeah. Especially since so much of it is self published. Is that something that you could help people with finding that, that great voiceover voice?

Allison: Oh my gosh, absolutely. Yes. I just finished doing a wonderful set of lessons with an actor that’s getting into voiceover, but I would love to work with non-actors as well. Anyone who’s looking to find either their voiceover voice and the confidence to do that work, I would love to absolutely help with that sort of thing. And also just generally getting your microphone set up, learning to use audacity or whatever program you want to use garage band or whatever it is. I am so down. So yeah, I’d love to help anybody who is looking for that confidence and that extra help.

Jera: Any last thoughts before we end?

Allison: You read my mind. But I think the most important takeaway for me with working on work that involves sexual content and in talking about desire a little bit too, is I think as, as women and nonbinary folks, we are often told that our desire is dangerous and that it’s, that we should be ashamed of it and hide it away.

And I think it’s so important to give a voice to your desire and to give it space, whether that is in consuming erotic content or romance, if you want to, if you don’t, there are so many other ways to follow your desire, but I’ve personally been working on listening to my desire more, whether that be from a perspective of what am I drawn to as a creator or from a perspective of what does my body need, does it need sex? Does it need food? Does it need a bath? You know, and it’s been really powerful to learn that I had so much on top of that, that were really other people’s desires that I had grew to get down to where mine was and anybody who’s struggling with that. I just want to say, I know it’s hard and you’re awesome.

Jera: That’s awesome. And a great place to end on. I think, thank you so much for joining me, us. Where’s the best place to find you?

Allison: Yes, I am. I like Instagram a lot. I’m at @algrisch on Instagram and also at the joyful actor. I’m a little more active on my personal page, but, but both are full they’re awesome. And then also the joyful actor has a website. It’s WW dot [inaudible] dot com. I love getting into conversations with people about exactly the kind of thing. So we’re talking about today, JIRA. So reach out. Talk to me if you’re curious about something I said today, message me. I want to hear about it.

A reminder: Allison is offering listeners 25% off your first voiceover or vocal coaching lesson to take advantage of this offer email and Allison@thejoyfulactor.com and mentioned this podcast.

Feminist Erotica is a podcast from Rebellious Magazine for Women hosted by Jera Brown, Princess McDowell, and Karen Hawkins. If you have an idea for a future episode or want to share your thoughts, we’d love to hear from you. Email us at feministerotica@rebelliousmagazine.com. Follow us on Instagram @feministeroticapodcast, on Facebook @feministerotica, and on Twitter @feministerotic, and make sure you subscribe to us wherever you devour podcasts.

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Jera Brown writes about being a queer kinky polyamorous Christian on their blog scarletchurch.com. Their sex and relationship advice column, Just the Tip, is hosted by Rebellious Magazine. Follow them on Twitter or Instagram @thejerabrown.