When it comes to advocating for anti-trafficking awareness, theater is the last thing that comes to my mind. I can envision online campaigns, petitions, tabling events, and any other type of public outreach happening on a day to day basis. Theater, for me, was reserved for one room spaces with big crowds dressed up for the night’s performance and sitting rather stiffly. That is an old-school way of looking at theater influenced by my love for classic black and white films from the 90s. So, I was rather surprised to see the above video from Moldova as one of my Google search results when I typed in “human trafficking theater.”
This video focuses on a new type of theater called “forum theater”, which is a “method of participatory theater, where spectators are asked to change the outcome of the play.” (Presse) In the video, audience members participate by raising their hands to answer questions and/or are given the chance to join the actors on stage and reenact a scene to provide an alternate ending and a solution. This is a refreshing way for viewers to get educated about an issue, especially for a nuanced topic that can be difficult to portray. I think that storytelling through theater and having the audience engage with actors and actresses during the performance brings a level of realism to the issue which thus convinces the audience of the issue’s seriousness.
Brysk states in her book, Speaking Rights to Power:
“The politics of persuasion have an affinity to theater. Theater has been a privilege of human rights critique since Antigone, while the key ‘secular’ human rights vehicles of trials, truth commissions, and public protest all take theatrical forms. Theatrical treatments of human rights include documentary or historical theater, participatory ‘street’ or community theater, allegories and politicized restagings of classical tales, and psychodramas like Death and Maiden (Rae 2009).”
It’s funny because now that I’ve finished writing this blog post, I’ve realized that I’ve actually heard about and talked to someone (quite briefly though, in my defense) about human trafficking in theater – specifically with Ashley Marinaccio of Girl Be Heard. We didn’t delve extensively into that conversation, however, as I had just met her in passing through a mutual friend. I am a HUGE fan of Girl Be Heard, especially how they utilize public space to act out their scenes and monologues. Pace University’s GENERATION WHY does an excellent job in doing that as well, though I’m not sure if they’ve done a performance piece on human trafficking. Either way, social justice issues being portrayed through theatrical means provides whole new level of understanding for actors and actresses since they have to personate their character’s experiences while learning about the specific issue assigned them. It’s not an act of simply memorizing lines, but channeling the behavior and attitude of their character while making sure to separate themselves (particularly their opinion) from the issue. I think the understanding gained from doing this gives the actor or actress a unique perspective of the issue that develops one’s understanding of it and how it began.