A handful of dancers bust out classic 90’s hip hop moves inside the Race Dance Company studio in Oklahoma City. As they pause to pose, Enid-born author-turned-playwright Shelby Simpson took her place in the center of the room.
Simpson’s second book, We’re All Bad In Bed, revels in embarrassing and awkward sexual moments. Simpson tackles her own sexual misdeeds and those of her friends. And soon, Simpson will reveal these sexual escapades before a live audience in a stage adaptation that incorporates theater, rap and hip-hop dance.
What prompted both the book and stage adaptation is a sex-related mishap that Shelby considers her most embarrassing to date.
“I was mortified by something that happened in my living room at 39 years old and it was so bad that I felt compelled to write about it because it was also very funny,” Simpson said. “I just collected the stories from my memories, the funniest ones about my girlfriends, and I went on a mission to talk to them about those experiences and document it in the form of comedy.”
The aforementioned incident sets the stage for an adult-themed, cringe-worthy, daring and on many occasions laugh-out-loud romp through a litany of comparably ill-fated sexual anecdotes, many of which had been shared between her and her friends for years.
As Simpson began chronicling these stories and telling others about the project, she quickly realized that she and her friends weren’t alone.
“When I've told people oh I'm writing the sex book. Everyone goes ‘Oh…,’”said Simpson. “And when I say it's about embarrassing sex moments all of them go, ‘Oh my God, I've got a story for you!’”
Many of the names have been changed, but Simpson insists that the stories are true. Moreover, they’re familiar and relatable, especially Simpson’s early, coming-of-age accounts when everything is brand new and the settings and circumstances often fail to meet idealized expectations. But despite the interest and enthusiasm that others have shown toward the book and theater production, the endeavor wasn’t without its challenges.
“I think the biggest challenge of the book was attempting to keep these stories going for the reader,” said Simpson. “I didn't know if people would get exhausted by talking about sex for 300 pages.”
So Simpson tried to break up the cringe-worthy mishaps by including educational anecdotes and keen observations.
“I tried to hit on topics that you don't think about, like the fact that you don't get your sexual education from proper pathways, usually,” said Simpson. “It's on the playground from an older student who tells you God knows what!”
For the stage production, Simpson employs music and dancing to keep the audience involved.
Bad In Bed Live Director, Matt Alvin Brown likens the end result as a “very naughty Prairie Home Companion.”
“You've got hip hop and storytelling and dancing and all of these different things are what we're using to help bring Shelby's book to life,” Brown said. “You know, it's an enhanced reading. It's a stage show. It's a party.”
But translating the overall concept for the stage involves some of the same concerns Simpson faced while writing the book.
“Sometimes I'm in rehearsal and I blush a little bit, but it's completely innocent and everybody's smiling the whole time. So I think that's a pretty good sign.”
Talking about sex, especially embarrassing sex in such an honest and open manner, can be awkward. And this production may not be for everyone, but Simpson steadfastly defends the notion.
“The older you get the more confident you get in yourself and you realize life is very short and sex is healthy and you can have sex for fun and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Simpson said.
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