Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reflections on Roadkill, an Experiential Play about Sex Trafficking

Rachel Durchslag, CAASE’s founder and executive director, attended the production of "Roadkill" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. The experiential play tells the story of a young woman trafficked in Chicago. Here are some of Rachel’s thoughts about the play. 

There is a nervous energy as we board the bus outside of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.  Approximately 20 people have signed up for an experiential theatrical performance that will take them away from Navy Pier and into a Chicago neighborhood for a play that deals with an issue many have yet to learn about—sex trafficking.

We drive west on Chicago Avenue out of downtown toward Wicker Park. Eventually the bus slows downs and picks up two actors playing a young girl and a woman only a few years older.  The girl tells the passengers she is from Nigeria and is moving to Chicago for a better life.  The woman who is her travel companion is her “auntie” whom she will live with and who will help her go to school and find work.  The young actor is wide-eyed and consistently comments on all the wonderful things she is viewing on the ride.  Her excitement and joyousness are infectious and soon everyone on the bus is smiling and laughing with her.  For a moment, they forget that they have purchased tickets to a play where they are going to watch the fate of this young girl as she becomes a victim of sex trafficking.

Trafficking thrives by being a hidden phenomenon.  As long as victims remain behind closed doors, away from the eyes of law enforcement, traffickers can continue to exploit them for their own economic benefit.  This is the brilliance of “Roadkill”- it brings the audience into the hidden space of an apartment where trafficked victims are held against their will.  Because audience members are surrounded by the play, the subject comes alive in an even more impactful way.  We see Mary as she experiences rape in front of us.  We feel her captivity as we sit with her in the room that is both where she sleeps and where she endures countless sexual assaults.  We long for her freedom as she lies in her bed looking up at a ceiling where johns’ faces are projected and quotes from johns’ boards are read.

“Roadkill” highlights the role of demand by showing faces of johns and bringing their real quotes into the story.  It shows how trafficked victims can become traffickers.  And it clearly demonstrates that sex trafficking can look different from an outside perspective.  This play serves as a tribute to the power of theater to connect theater-goers deeply with social justice issues.