Denise Wong tells the story of No. 18, a teenage victim of human trafficking and the sex trade.
It’s a production that tugs at the heartstrings of those involved, which is a sign of a great creation.
It’s just unfortunate that the premise of burnt thicket theatre’s She Has a Name, a drama about the plight of human trafficking, is a reality across the world every single day.
Actors Denise Wong and Cari Russell knew it would be challenging to star in a play about the victims of a human trafficking ring, but they admittedly didn’t realize the extent of the emotional impact.
“It really planted a seed in myself,” Russell says. “It literally took days to shake the feelings of what I was doing off. And these poor women live this every day; I was just acting.”
Russell says the play opened her eyes to serious issues of injustice and tragedy, and she hopes that it resonates with audience members.
“I hope it challenges them in a profound way. But that shouldn’t intimidate people from seeing the play. It’s an emotional challenge but a constructive one. I think it also can offer redemption and hope.”
Despite the fact Russell is not playing the role of a victim — she plays the wife of Canadian lawyer Jason, who is working undercover to expose a human trafficking ring — she still finds the role to be a vulnerable one.
“I think it’s a really powerful play. His wife isn’t with him, but they Skype and she provides him much needed support, because he is deeply affected, too,” she adds. “It’s an issue that affects everyone, whether they are a victim or not.”
Wong’s role may be even more challenging, as she plays the part of “No.18,” a vulnerable 15-year-old victimized prostitute and a key witness to Jason’s case.
“I think this play teaches everyone something about the human condition, but it’s also so much more than that,” says Wong, adding about the production: “I hope it speaks for itself and everyone leaves with something from it.”
Director Stephen Waldschmidt says She Has a Name is riddled with gritty realism but has a heightened spirit-realm, as Jason is haunted by the voices of four female victims who did not survive their journey as sex slaves.
“These voices obsess Jason’s dreams. They also consume the mind of No. 18,” he explains. “If this were made into a movie tomorrow, it would be billed as a suspense thriller.”
She Has a Name features five actors who take on 10 roles that connect the Bangkok setting with Canada as the play switches back and forth between the two countries.
Everyone involved with the production believes the underlying storyline will appeal to the masses. They believe every victim and every perpetrator connected in the human traffic web is a human being that could easily touch any one of us.
“The tragedy of No. 18’s plight highlights that real justice needs to be secured for the real victims around the world,” playwright Andrew Kooman says. “It also suggests that justice can only be realized if real people know, care and take informed and decisive action.”
Armed with more knowledge than she had before, Russell intends to somehow make a difference.
“Even if it’s just opening the eyes of other people and bringing the issue to the forefront, it’s something that needs to be done. I think people need to know that this is real and it’s happening,” Russell says.
If one thing is certain — it’s that each person involved with She Has a Name has been changed, and they challenge audience members to leave a different person, as well.