This is the final weekend of performances for Squaring Up, an immersive theatrical experience at Orange Mound Gallery that tackles the issue of human trafficking in Memphis.
Squaring Up is a collaboration between Thistle & Bee Enterprises, a sex trafficking survivor support organization, and Project 1 Collaborative Arts, which examines human rights issues through theatrical performance.
The fictional piece inspired by real stories of survivors of sex trafficking is meant to raise awareness of and call for an end to an issue that is more pervasive in Memphis than many people would expect.
There are two more opportunities to catch Squaring Up at OMG: Friday, May 26th at 7:30 and Saturday, May 27th at 7:30. All tickets are Pay-What-You-Can. Saturday’s performance will also be live streamed and you can get details about that here.
Choose901 spoke to Julia Hinson, the writer and director of the show, and Aliza Moran, founder of Project 1 Collaborative Arts about how the show was developed and what they hope audiences will take from it.
We often don’t look at an issue because it scares us, and I think what is so scary is that we will see an element of ourselves…and then what? We have no choice but to have empathy and help.
Can you share about the process of gathering survivor stories? How did you build trust? How integral were they in the arrangement of the performance?
The issue of sex trafficking and prostitution is very complex. First of all, just because a survivor has chosen to leave the life, doesn’t mean the pimp goes away. Women who have lived under the “pimp” model fear their pimp finding them LONG after they have left the situation. So, learning that made it very important to me to NOT to put real stories on stage, but to capture the essence of the patterns that I started to see when listening. Collecting research became very vital to the process, so not only gathering stories from survivors, but reading and watching documentaries and meeting with area organizations that work to aid survivors and work to change laws. The fictional characters became archetypes of what is only a small glimpse into the world of sex trafficking.
Building trust with someone you are interviewing is always the same no matter what the issue: listen with an open heart. In some ways I felt like gathering survivors’ stories is something I have been doing all my life.
The more stories I heard, the more I realized that any one of us could have the same story.
So as I started to write, I realized that what was inspiring to me was not just the women who had got caught up in prostitution, but all stories about women who had been sexually, physically, and mentally abused as children; they were stories about women who suffer with addiction issues and body issues; they were stories about women battling low self worth and mental illness. We often don’t look at an issue because it scares us, and I think what is so scary is that we will see an element of ourselves…and then what? We have no choice but to have empathy and help.
What are you hoping audience members/community members will do after being made aware of human trafficking as a major problem in Memphis?
Sex trafficking is so complex that we could have put on 50 different performances about the various angles of the issue. In the end, we decided that representing the humanity, manipulation, and hope that lives within the victims and survivors was the fit for this particular performance.
We want community members to see that these girls and boys are not doing this by choice and that sex trafficking does effect EVERYONE! Just because you live in a $500,000 + home doesn’t mean that your children will not be found and manipulated by these criminals.
What should people keep an eye out for?
Parents and young people should be aware that pimps and traffickers are soliciting on Facebook, Snapchat, Chat rooms, Instagram, and in person. They will follow you in any public place and wait for a moment when your guard is down and scoop up your child. Traffickers will message children with the purpose of creating a sense of comfort in order to lure the children away from their families. They will seek to take the place of a romantic relationship, father, and sometimes mother for these young people. They will then manipulate them either by drugs and/or by intimidation to perform sexual acts for money.
Though the traffickers are a huge issue, you can’t have supply without demand. The “Johns” receive a mere slap on the wrist when caught while the prostitutes receive a harsher sentence. Outside of simply eradicating sex trafficking, I would hope and want our audience members to petition for stricter laws on the men who purchase these women.
I would also want the audience members to recognize that the victims are people with lives that have been gravely affected; these young people have lost their childhood.
The problem of sex trafficking is demand based, so vital to helping the issue is to take a close look at why there is a demand. We should all be investigating our own relationship to sex. Start noticing how normalized it is to sell “sex” in our society whether it be to the extreme of prostitution or to the most simple of a beautiful woman on a magazine cover. We are subconsciously trained to find value by seeking out sex and providing sexual gratification.
How can people support survivor transitions?
One way is to re-frame your opinion about prostitutes and survivors of prostitution. Try not to think of them as criminals but as victims. I also think learning more about addiction can help you have empathy for survivors. And most importantly support local organizations! I can’t say it enough. They are doing noble work in the scariest of places and they welcome your support!
There are numerous programs that simply need financial and community assistance. Groups such as Thistle & Bee (our collaborators), The Lisieux Community, and Restore Corps Memphis are just a few programs within Memphis that seek to assist these women and men in rebuilding their lives. Survivors need access to mental health professionals, health care professionals, safe housing, and other programs that allow these women and men to experience professions that might be of interest for potential careers down the road.