...how do we talk about this without turning these women into victims?
Upstage host Eric Sukhu spoke with Artistic Director Lynne Cooper about Le Trunk Collectif’s presentation of Traffik Femme. Below is an abridged version edited by Estelle Rosen, CharPo Editor-in-chief.
UPSTAGE: Traffik Femme is about a woman caught in the hell of human trafficking. Welcome to Upstage, Lynne. Tell us about this play; how did your Company get involved?
COOPER: In 2005 I did a tour with Théatre Parminou with a play called Lost in Traffic from which I learned about human trafficking in Canada. I never thought such a thing existed in this country. So I started doing more research.
After doing a play about immigration - Sunk in the Trunk - I realized my next step was to produce a show about human trafficking.
As my interest became more localized into Canada, I realized that it’s not so much women from abroad, but it’s more internal. Women being sold within Canada.
UPSTAGE: What did you find out in your research?
COOPER: My research began in Europe, specifically countries that have come up from the Soviet Bloc and women moving into the richer countries in Europe.
As my interest became more localized into Canada, I realized that it’s not so much women from abroad, but it’s more internal. Women being sold within Canada. Native American, young, women from the ages of 13 getting caught into gangs. That really got my attention.
UPSTAGE: How did you go about writing this play?
COOPER: Initially I wanted to transform a monologue that I loved - A Whore In The Madhouse - into a show about human trafficking. I asked Emma Haché, Governor General Literary Award winner, to write the show. For a period of two years, we did research and workshopped various ideas with different actresses. She developed the play that eventually became Traffik Femme.
I think theatre is a beautiful vehicle for social development and to create dialogue with audiences
UPSTAGE: I see in the press release you incorporate dance as well.
COOPER: My background is Le Coq so I include dance, physical theatre, and shadow puppetry.
UPSTAGE: How long have you been working on this project?
COOPER: We premiered in 2010 at the MAI for two weeks. We’re now in our second season; we’ll be at Segal Centre with Traffik Femme.
UPSTAGE: Why would you choose theatre to present a story like this?
COOPER: I think theatre is a beautiful vehicle for social development and to create dialogue with audiences which is what my company wants to do. I want to use theatre to talk about different topics of interest, as we did with Sunk in the Trunk about immigration, and now about human trafficking with Traffik Femme.
It’s a play that definitely brings us to the subject of prostitution. That wasn’t my goal but inevitably it passes through there.
UPSTAGE: What was audience reaction when first presented in 2010 – shock?
COOPER: There were a lot of different reactions; some people were shocked; some were troubled; others were interested in learning more about it; others loved it and started getting more involved in the scene.
It’s a play that definitely brings us to the subject of prostitution. That wasn’t my goal but inevitably it passes through there. I find that interesting now especially with the conversation about changing our laws.
Traffik Femme creates many different types of conversations; not only about prostitution but also about our sexuality and how we talk about sex. A lot of those conversations came about after the show.
UPSTAGE: In your research. you must have come across many stories. How did you condense; how did you select?
COOPER: We went from a large trafficking story to the story of one woman. That’s how we decided to make it a one woman show. There was quite a lot in the first text. We did a lot of cutting to make it easier for the audience to sit through it.
I thought a lot about our audience while cutting scenes and trying to get where you want to get. I wanted to include poetry, moments where the audience can breathe.
UPSTAGE: Have you met anyone in your research who was a victim of human trafficking?
COOPER: My research was mostly with police officers and social workers but Emma did meet one of the victims and put quite a bit of her story into the show.
I came across people who didn’t believe that human trafficking existed
UPSTAGE: What was the next step?
COOPER: You have to create something and make it artistic. I came across people who didn’t believe that human trafficking existed which led to interesting conversations with people in the sex trade.
A lot of confrontation about how do we talk about this without being offensive or without turning these women into victims. So we selected what we wanted.
We tried to incorporate as much humour as possible. Coming from a background of clown and buffoon I try to throw hints here and there.
UPSTAGE: Were there talkbacks at the first presentation in 2010?
COOPER: Yes there were. They always helped a lot. Audiences need a few minutes to digest this heavy subject. Those conversations were really interesting. We learned a lot. This time we have a panel on March 13.