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Play about human trafficking provides chilling insights

By: Anna Borowiecki

  |  Posted: Saturday, Sep 22, 2012 06:00 am

NO. 18 HAS A NAME – Number 18 (Evelyn Chew) is constantly intimidated by her pimp (Carl Kennedy) in the production of She Has a Name, a play focusing on human sex traffic.
NO. 18 HAS A NAME – Number 18 (Evelyn Chew) is constantly intimidated by her pimp (Carl Kennedy) in the production of She Has a Name, a play focusing on human sex traffic.
Supplied photo

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She Has a Name
Burnt Thicket Theatre
Sept. 25 to 30
Catalyst Theatre
8529 Gateway Boulevard
Tickets: $22 to $27 at or call 1-800-838-3006

Canadians like to consider themselves sophisticated and open to discussing anything. But the sex trade and human trafficking is still a topic that makes us squirm.

Human trafficking is a global epidemic happening under our very noses. Award-winning playwright Andrew Kooman’s first full-length play, She Has a Name, is one of those hard-hitting works designed to provoke individuals into an awareness of the horrific situations.

And the best way to do it is shock our cocooned sensibilities is with Burnt Thicket Theatre’s gritty production now on a 13-city cross-Canada tour that stops at Catalyst Theatre, Sept. 25 to 30.

After obtaining a degree from Red Deer College, Kooman accidentally stumbled into a close-up look at the world of human trafficking while working for Youth With a Mission, a Christian non-profit in Malaysia.

Towards the end of his two-year stay, he attended a conference in Singapore where the main topic of discussion was the sex trade and human trafficking.

“Hearing children five and under were forced to perform sex acts on johns day after day, I felt I’d rather be hit by a bus than know that. It was incredible,” explained Kooman in a telephone interview from his office at Red Deer College where he works in public relations.

“Unthinkable things were done to them, day in and day out, and it rattled me so much, I turned it into a play. Also, it was a way to respond in a human way.”

In She Has a Name, an idealistic young lawyer working with an international team tries to build a legal case around a Bangkok brothel trafficking girls. He tries to convince a young prostitute known only as No. 18 to risk her life to testify in the name of justice.

“I learned that anything can and does happen and it takes a toll on human life.”

At the same time Kooman was writing his script, a water truck from Burma carrying 121 workers in a locked container broke down at Thailand’s border. Officials discovered the locked container with 54 dead.

“There were a number of women and men. The truck ran out of gas and the Burmese truck driver abandoned it. Because of the heat, over 50 people died on the Thai border.”

Sienna Howell-Holden, a Sherwood Park actress, plays the role of Mamma-San, the diabolical madam who operates the brothel.

Playing this kind of role in such an intense play is draining for actors and tears at their psyche.

“But you can’t hold anything back. You owe it to the people in the audience and the millions in the sex trade,” Howell-Holden said.

“We are the voices for the voiceless and we owe it to tell their story as accurately and honestly as possible. And that means plugging into real emotions and plugging into an evil that is hard to imagine.”

One of her strongest realizations was learning that human trafficking occurs in Canada as well as Asia.

A special talk-back panel to discuss local trafficking will be set up after the Sept. 29 matinee show at 2 p.m. Confirmed panelists are Rachel Hansen, India field director Mission of Mercy Canada; Cindy Kovalak, human trafficking awareness co-coordinator RCMP NW Region; Norma, a trafficking survivor and board member of Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation, and Amy Stephens, Action Coalition on Human Trafficking.

Kooman has the last word.

“The play is really about the issue. But it’s still an exciting, dynamic, fast-paced, edgy piece of theatre.


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