Theatre has the potential to be transformative, allowing the viewer to learn more easily about themselves and the world around them without even realizing it.
That’s exactly what Peerada Meemalayath (writer/director) and team hope to do with Trafficked 2.0, their inventive and important new piece premiering at this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival. Trafficked 2.0 tells the story of Janelle (also played by Meemalayath), a young Thai girl who is suddenly thrown into the world of sex trafficking. It’s a sobering reflection and a timely parable. I had the privilege of sitting down with Meemalayath and her cast at their North Hollywood rehearsal space to discuss the merits of the show and why good theatre is needed now more than ever.
“I think theatre allows us to explore more.” Meemalayath starts. “The more you become aware, the more you can change things”
Vernice Zuniga, who pulls double duty as both Janelle’s mother and another girl she meets while trafficked, puts it eloquently, “When you’re sitting in the space of a theatre – I always like to call it ‘soft power’ – it’s powerful in a soft way because it’s entertainment. You’re watching a story unfold and when you come out of it something has shifted. Not because it told you to, but because you felt it. You’re experiencing empathy without realizing it—which I think is the art and the power of theatre and how it can influence the way we take action.”
Another huge point for the creative team is being sure that diverse stories are heard, something they were very cognizant of when deciding to tell this story from the vantage points of two women of color.
“It came personally from a place of wanting to tell the stories of Asian Americans, because there aren’t a lot—or stories that represent us in a way that’s not stereotypical. I wanted to tell a story that represented [people that were like] me. Even though it’s being told by me, it’s something that [everyone] can connect to. It’s all the same emotions and there’s not a lot of stories being made to show that,” Meemalayath explains.
Well, if empathy and a sense of responsibility for our fellow man is the problem, maybe shows like these are part of the solution.
“The way we’ve learned to treat other people is terrible. I hope that when watching the show, people learn to empathize a little more. [We’re all people] feeling pain and going through something.”
And, while sex trafficking does disproportionally effect women, don’t let the cast members hear you say their show is just for girls.
“To me this show is about connection. It’s this human thing. We all feel it. Overall it’s a survival story [and] a lot of survival stories show the essence of what it is to human, ” Zuniga explains. “We talked about empathy and just wanting to create characters that people connect to,’ Meemalayath adds.
Daniel Spero, who plays one of the bidders in the fictitious trafficking ring, chimes in. “Its not a girls’ show by any stretch of the imagination. [First, Trafficking] still happens to guys. It happens. [Also,] even though it happens a lot to women, you should still know it so you can prevent it.”
“Also, the guys’ roles are a mirror to men. This is the strength you can have and these are the [potential pitfalls]. This is what it can become,” says Austin Jiang, half of the shows choreographing duo.
“I feel like trying to say it’s a girl show—[affirms the stereotype] that men lack empathy, which I don’t think is the case. Men will be interested in this. This is a real thing that happens to real people all over the world. It’s mesmerizing to watch our show,” Spero adds.
Meemalayath inserts, “In the sex industry, yes, more females tend to be the ones trafficked but if you look at trafficking over all, it’s mostly young boys working [physical labor].”
Which is true. Human trafficking affects millions across the world, including our own back yard, there’s a reason it’s been dubbed “modern day slavery.” It’s a blight of humanity that seems rarely at the forefront of the global conscious, let alone the American one; something Meemalayath and Co. hope to change. “It’s everywhere. It’s all around [us]. It’s not just sex but also labor trafficking. [We need] to be more aware and pay attention,” Assistant Director Sarai Ford cautions. Something Jiang definitely agrees with. “I don’t want [people] to think America’s safe—that it doesn’t happen here. In reality, in the last five years they [even] found a sex trafficking ring 15 miles from here, in San Diego. So, it’s right next to us.”
Trafficked 2.0 is the kind of show that utilizes physical theatre, dance, and heightened, poetic language to change the way we see narratives, open our eyes to the would around us, and add diversity to an overwhelmingly homogenous storytelling landscape. While I don’t want to spoil anything, this show is indeed a unique piece of theatre that needs to be seen to be understood. Lucky for you, tickets are on sale now.
Trafficked 2.0 officially opens June 7th and runs through June 23rd at Studio/Stage. For more information and tickets visit www.hollywoodfringe.com