‘Ethical Slut’ launches second YouTube season

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Ben Fritz

Why is it OK, and even complimentary, to refer to a man with many sexual conquests as a “stud,” while promiscuous women are labeled “slut”?

The question has long interested Madison-born actor and filmmaker Ben Fritz. It drives the philosophy and narratives behind The Ethical Slut, Fritz’s Web-based series that soon launches its second season.

Based on the 1997 book The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities by lesbian authors Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy (then writing under the name Catherine A. Liszt), the series focuses on two female friends exploring the concept of polyamory, the idea of having multiple intimate or sexual relationships at the same time with the consent of everyone involved. The authors sought to reclaim the word “slut” as an empowering feminist term.

Season One’s 12 episodes, each from 5 to 8 minutes long, explore different aspects of the concept. They’re meant for bite-sized consumption by busy viewers. Despite the title, the Web series is more PG-13 than R-rated — something that Fritz believes captures the authors’ philosophy.

“What drew me (to the book) were concepts of open communications and emotional responsibility,” said Fritz, a Monona native whose acting experiences range from episodes of the TV series Friends to a Madison production of Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi in which he played Judas Iscariot.

“I’m also interested in how people structure their lives and make it work,” Fritz adds. “They try to do it in ways that make them feel free, and the characters in the series do so through sexual freedom.”

Fritz spent time as part of the Los Ange- les filmmaking scene, appearing in front of and behind the camera for several independent productions. He acquired the rights to The Ethical Slut book and was in the process of negotiating a series with HBO when it became clear that the cable network planned to go in its own direction without him — and with an emphasis on sensationalizing the book’s sexuality. That approach didn’t fit with the authors’ vision, and the deal eventually was scuttled.

At that point, an independent production seemed the way to go, Fritz says.

“I eventually decided I wanted to make it myself, because I wanted to create some- thing that didn’t exploit people’s smallness,” he says.

Fritz chose his hometown of Madison, partly because of the contacts and resources he had there, but also to prove that polyamory is a concept that can be embraced by middle America.

With a blended L.A. and local cast and crew, Season One is so Madison-centric that it could be a chamber of commerce video — if not for the sexual theme. Characters shop at the Willy Street Co-op, play at Keva Sports Center, visit Ale Asylum Brewery and work out at A Perfect Knot Yoga Center. Shots of the Capitol Dome at all times of day and night dominate the visuals.

The series concerns the lives of friends Dotty (Melissa Nearman), a politically correct, co-op-shopping East Side wife and mother, and Jackie (Betsy Kruse Craig), a more sexually adventurous West Side country-clubber. The series follows the two women as they explore different ways of sexual expression, including extra-marital affairs, multiple partners, self-pleasure and gender-bending.

While the book was a serious look at alternative lifestyles, the Web series takes a more comical approach. Fritz stars as Dotty’s husband, a teacher at what looks suspiciously like Monona Grove High School, his alma mater.

Season One, which Fritz wrote and directed, was financed with $30,000 raised through Kickstarter as well as personal funds. Fritz will post Season Two’s 14 episodes online in May and begin shooting Season Three in the next few weeks.

In Season Two, the narratives become a little more political, and there is more LGBT content. The original book has a strong LGBT following, Fritz says.

For now Fritz is happy to be producing a Web series and happy with his Madison locations, which have been accommodating to his cast and crew. He still believes in the message behind the series.

“Everyone who wants to live an open lifestyle can be an ethical slut,” he says.

ON THE WEB

Catch all 12 episodes of Season One of The Ethical Slut on YouTube.

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