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BWW Blog: Take It Personally

The Political Power of Site-Specific Theatre

BWW Blog: Take It Personally

A pair of scantily clad women ambled down the hallway holding small silver trays lined, presumably, with cocaine. One of them paused to look at me and, through the veil of a seductive smile, whispered "help me" discreetly before swaying her hips and attention to the next person in line. I shivered, eyes wide and my mouth slightly agape as I tried not to make a visible reaction. The group of us had just watched, and through our inaction aided in, the trafficking of a young girl.

The multi-award winning play, Roadkill, was directed and conceived by Cora Bissett, the Artistic Director and founder of a Scottish company called Pachamama, and has been performed all over the world, though I saw it in 2010 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The show started on a a bus focusing on a young girl, Mary, who had just arrived in Edinburgh from Nigeria, where she was struggling to help support her family. Mary looks the picture of innocence, marveling at the traffic lights in her new big city wearing a white dress and a sweet smile.

She has come at the invitation of her glamorous looking "Auntie" with the promise of economic opportunity and a new life. As an audience, we are instantly connected with Mary on the bus. We feel the same excited anticipation, we know that we are being taken somewhere, but we're not exactly sure where or what we will experience when we get there. When the bus suddenly stops at an unsuspecting flat and we are all led inside, Mary is quickly swept into an adjoining room, where we overhear her beaten into submission by a rough-sounding man. When she emerges from the room we follow her to the basement of the apartment, where she is locked away and forced into sex work. We watch helplessly as third-party observers as her life transforms from naïveté to the bitter realities of life as one abducted and sold at the hands of sex-traffickers.

We pick and choose the causes that mean something to us. Most of the time they're something we identify with, something that we or someone we love has personally gone through that opens our hearts to its importance. I have never been personally affected by sex trafficking, nor have I ever known anyone who has. I thought of it as an issue that existed somewhere on the periphery of the society I lived in. "Terrible," I'd say as I watched the news, and go get a snack, the thought gone before it had even been processed. But all of a sudden, through the sheer power of breaking down the fourth wall and using location as a driving force behind story telling, my body feels like it knows someone who has lived through this. Now when I see a story on the news about possible legislation on the subject, I feel personally affected. I think first of the little girl in a white dress, and then to the woman with the thousand-yard stare, walking around in high heels and lingerie. The political power of site-specific theatre is unmatched, especially when we don't expect it, when simply wandering into a new space waiting to see what happens to us next.


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