By Lana Michelin – Red Deer Advocate
Published: May 15, 2012 8:46 AM

People in 12 Canadian cities can soon see a powerful play about human trafficking written by Red Deer playwright Andrew Kooman.

She has A Name opened to positive reviews and sold-out houses in Calgary and Red Deer in February 2011 and is now being prepped for a cross-country tour that starts on May 23 in Lethbridge.

The drama about an abducted young woman who is forced into the sex trade in Bangkok, Thailand, is also slated to run in Saskatoon, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax, Winnipeg, Calgary, Victoria, Vancouver, Kelowna and Edmonton, before ending with Oct. 2 to 6 performances at the Scott Block in downtown Red Deer.


The Burnt Thicket Theatre production is Kooman’s first full-length play, and he’s overwhelmed by its success.

Audience reaction was so positive after the initial run that Kooman said a tour was organized to allow more people to see it. “We sold out every show and at some we were turning away 20 to 30 people at the door, so we thought, something is happening here . . . we’ve got to bring this to more communities.”

The cross-Canada tour, made possible after nearly $100,000 was raised from business sponsors, church groups and private donors, is exciting and is “definitely going to be an adventure,” predicted Kooman, who’s planning panel discussions involving experts on human trafficking.

He will participate in an Ottawa panel with Kildonan-St. Paul MP Joy Smith, who presented a private member’s bill that was unanimously passed by the House of Commons in 2007. It called on Parliament to condemn the trafficking of women and children across international borders for the purposes of sexual exploitation and to adopt a comprehensive strategy to combat human trafficking worldwide.

Kooman was volunteering overseas with a non-profit agency when he attended a conference of sex trafficking that deeply shocked him.

“It caught me by surprise that five-year-olds were forced to service johns up to 20 times a day. . . . It really rattled me, and I had to either do something about it or I had to turn the other way.”

Kooman said he chose to write a play to draw more public awareness. But the drama that’s headed out on tour is significantly different than the one that premiered in Alberta last year.

The play still concerns a Western human rights lawyer named Jason, who tries to save a teenage girl held captive in a Bangkok bordello by getting her to testify against her abductors. The teenager, who is forced to service clients, has lost everything — her freedom, family, home — and even her name. Known only as No. 18, she initially doubts and then desperately wants to believe Jason’s promises of rescue.

The action is narrated, or “haunted” by four voices — the spirits of female victims who did not survive the sex trade. The voices obsess Jason’s dreams and consume the mind of No. 18.

Kooman said he made changes, particularly to the exchanges between Jason and his employer, saying, “scenes with his boss are more dynamic and exciting.”

But he believes She Has A Name retains the emotional quality that resonated with audiences. Despite harrowing subject matter, the play is “palatable,” in that it shocks, without being so disturbing that no one wants to recommend it to others.

“It brings you to the edge without pushing you over,” added the playwright, who had to walk a fine line in what he could depict on stage.

The lead roles will be played by Vancouver actors Evelyn Chew and Carl Kennedy, and the play will be directed by Calgary’s Stephen Waldschmidt.

Audience members who want to take personal action will be directed to the websites of several non-profit organizations through the playbill. One of them will be Kooman’s group, Raise Their Voice, which recently partnered with Lacombe charity A Better World to offer programs to help former sex workers in Thailand find a new life.

For more information about the tour schedule or tickets, go to the website.