Not only does Antonia Crane know her way around a movie set, she also knows her way around a stripper pole. As someone with experience as an exotic dancer, Crane served as an expert consultant for Film Arcade's "Afternoon Delight," which stars Kathryn Hahn as a bored housewife who befriends a young sex worker played by Juno Temple.
Crane, 41, started dancing at age 3. The daughter of a lawyer and a paralegal, she grew up in Humboldt County, playing in the redwood forest, skiing, camping, horseback riding and cheerleading. She earned a spot in an honors program at College of the Redwoods before transferring to Mills College, where she began reading postmodern feminist theory. The sex-positive feminism of Kathy Acker, Judith Butler and others — combined with a need for cash — inspired her to launch her unconventional career as an exotic dancer, which she saw as a form of performance art.
"It's empowering to women in a lot of ways," she said. "I mean, it's the best blue-collar gig out there in terms of the money that you get and the hours spent. And so you can really have a life for yourself outside the strip club."
Since then, she's shimmied and strutted at more than a dozen strip clubs over the last 20 years, on and off. She's taken detours as a counselor for homeless youth, receptionist at an entertainment law firm, personal assistant to a fashion designer and waitress.
Crane earned her MFA in creative writing from Antioch University, and she teaches young wordsmiths at UC San Diego and at Woodcraft Rangers, which offers after-school programs for inner-city teens. She also contributes a sex column to the Rumpus, an alternative pop culture website, and has penned a forthcoming memoir titled "Spent."
"There's a lot of judgment from the world about someone who has clocked many years as an exotic dancer or whatever," she said. "What would be empowering is if that changed."
Solo way, duo way: Crane met Jill Soloway, writer-director of "Afternoon Delight," at a literary reading in San Francisco a few years ago, and they started going on walks. "She drew on my experience to help her figure out the criteria to create authenticity of how sex workers are portrayed in her screenplay," said Crane. They often returned to the question: Does a sex worker have a responsibility to a client's wife or girlfriend? "I don't really have a clear-cut answer," said Crane. "But the great thing about 'Afternoon Delight' is that it's the woman that goes into the secret world and has a connection with a dancer that is not within the acceptable parameters of her marriage."
Stripper strut: For the film's strip club scene, Crane hired 15 dancers. "Because I was able to hire actual strippers, people who had been fetish models and friends of mine, they were really in their sexual bodies and knew how to walk and move and stand in the strip club," she said. "I also went on Model Mayhem [a website for professional models], but I had to really work with them and help them be sexual. I would tell them: uncross your arms, chest up, chin out and catch the eye of a client across the room. It's a confidence and a welcoming attitude. But it's more than that: It's actually making a genuine connection with a human being." Crane also walked the walk herself as an extra in the film.
Clothes make the woman: The wardrobe department consulted Crane about the best way to clothe the strippers to express Soloway's vision. "The other girls represented this raw, sensual world of the strip club, and so we wanted to do a lot of black and red and animal prints and green," said Crane. "And with Juno Temple's character, McKenna, she was the angel and the whore all wrapped into one. She's blond and in pink and white and ribbons but super sexy and really sexually embodied."
Sexual healing: Some sex workers sell sex; others inhabit grayer areas ranging from exotic dancing to fetish photography. "I like the term 'sex worker' because it's inclusive of every person who works in the adult entertainment industry, and that term is neither condemning nor romantic," said Crane. She added, "Sex workers are healers. McKenna was a healer, and kind of an innocent healer. She was trying to help [Hahn's character] Rachel, and she was trying to heal Rachel. And I thought that was handled really beautifully."