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SK!N: Raising awareness on human trafficking through theatre

We speak to Terence Conrad of TerryandTheCuz about raising awareness on human trafficking with the participatory theatre ‘SK!N’

Photo: Darshen Chelliah

Human trafficking is an issue we’re all familiar with; we read about it in newspapers, watch it on the news. But how much do we really know? TerryandTheCuz along with Australian choreographer Ashley Dyer attempt the unimaginable with ‘SK!N’ – an interactive theatre that will immerse you in a human trafficking scenario.

The name ‘SK!N’ is particularly memorable. How did you come about that?
We wanted a name that would immediately explain what the show was about – the commodification of human beings. We wanted to make a piece of work that will get under people’s skin; we wanted to take only 50 minutes of the audience’s time to feel something someone may have felt for six weeks.

Producing a show like this must have involved intensive research. What was that process like?
We thought we would spend a couple of months researching and then we’d have a show. It’s been two years. Initially we started reading material off the internet, and then we started getting in touch with local NGOs like UNHCR, CARAM Asia and Tenaganita. We followed them as they interviewed victims and we met survivors who have been trying to rebuild their lives. It took a long time because we realised how sensitive this subject was. It was very personal stories that people shared with us; we had to be very careful with how we present them.

‘The idea is that we wanted the audience to carry that fear because that's what happens when people are trafficked’



How did you convert all of that into creating ‘SK!N’?
What defined the work was when we were doing these interviews with the survivors, none of them spoke English or Malay and would answer with large gestures. Words weren’t important because we understood just by looking at their actions; you could see their anger, their fear. That was when we realised we didn’t want to do just a theatre show – it needed audience participation. It wasn’t just listening to people talking. That’s when we started working on the idea of expressions and physical theatre dance.

You worked closely with Tenaganita on this production. Tell us about the partnership.
It’s more than a partnership for us because if I started talking about human trafficking, people are going ask, ‘Who are you to talk about such an issue?’ By working with Tenaganita, it stops that. They were very helpful; they gave us access to interviews and we met a whole myriad of victims.

We know you can’t reveal much about it, but what can you tell us about the interactive aspect of this performance?
The whole concept is to ‘traffic’ the audience and take everybody out of their comfort zones. Everywhere we went and every story we heard, it was always the thought of people being segregated. That’s what we do – we’ll segregate you; we’ll try and commodify you. The idea is that we wanted the audience to carry that fear because that’s what happens when people are traffi cked. Instead of just telling them statistics or stories, we’re going to make them feel the story.

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