June 27, 2012 – 4:14am By ELISSA BARNARD Entertainment Reporter
She Has a Name tells the story of child prostitute
No. 18 (Evelyn Chew) is seduced by her ruthless pimp (Carl Kennedy) in Burnt Thicket Theatre’s production of She Has a Name at the Neptune Studio Theatre July 3 to 7. (KELSEY KROGMAN)
When he met child victims of human trafficking, Andrew Kooman decided he needed to write a play to tell their story.
Most people hear a statistic like 1.2 million children are trafficked every year and turn away, Kooman says he is no exception.
“For me I’d rather be hit by a bus than think about it,” he says during a phone interview from Red Deer, Alta.
But theatre can “humanize” a story like no other medium and the experience of watching a play can make people act.
That’s the point behind She Has a Name, Kooman’s drama about a 15-year-old prostitute and victim of human trafficking.
He wrote the 90-minute play, in Halifax July 3-7 as part of its 13-city Canadian tour, not as a documentary but as a suspenseful drama about a Canadian lawyer (Jason) working undercover to expose a human trafficking ring based in Thailand.
To win his case, Jason must persuade his key witness, the 15-year-old prostitute known only as No. 18, to risk her life and testify.
No. 18’s story is a fictional one but Kooman was inspired by an event in April 2008 in which an abandoned storage container was found in Thailand containing 121 workers from Burma, 54 of them dead.
Kooman learned more than he wanted to about human trafficking when he worked for the non-profit Youth With A Mission-Mercy ministry in Malaysia.
“There’s a lot of trafficking in Southeast Asia. In Africa-Asia, it’s probably the worst but it really does happen in every country in the world, even Canada.”
Because the reality of trafficking is “so dehumanizing,” Kooman wanted to focus on an individual story.
“What’s really important is that people start talking about it and how in their own life they can affect the issue whether it’s to donate money or volunteer or write a play!”
Vancouver actor Evelyn Chew was about to go to back to theatre school when she was offered the role of No. 18 for the national tour.
“I thought it’d be a challenge because it’s such a heavy topic,” she says in a phone interview from Montreal during the play’s run there.
“As an actor, I have to go there. Otherwise, I don’t think the audience will follow me. I try to personalize it as much as I can and I try to fill it up with my heart as much as I can.
“Usually in the first few minutes of the show people are a little shocked and I can feel it. It’s intense and we don’t shy away from the topic. I can feel the audience is hestitant.”
However, people become engaged.
“I think there is a certain pace to the play and it picks up near the end and there is an intense, intense climax and everyone wonders what happens to these people.”
Kooman has written a play about a Romanian Christian Richard Wurmbrand, who was imprisoned as a political prisonor in a Soviet camp in the 1950s, and a drama about Nazi-occupied Holland focussing on two police officers, one working for the resistance, the other for the Nazis.
“I love theatre because it’s a place to ask those big questions.”