By Lizzy Scully
What do you know about child sex trafficking or prostitution? Did you know 300 children per night are trafficked for sex in Denver? Had you any clue that hundreds of thousands of American children are forced into the sex trade each year, or that 50 percent of the worldwide sex trade deals in children?
I certainly didn’t realize these things before watching the University of Colorado’s student performance of “Boom Boom Yum Yum,” a disturbing play about prostitution and child sex trafficking in Burma, the United States, Thailand, Malaysia, Russia, and even Tel Aviv, Israel. Most of the audience members also knew little about the issue. But, due to the forceful and often violent performance by the students, it’s not something any of us are likely to forget anytime soon.
The students, all seniors who worked closely together in the same company for three-plus years, chose the subject matter, researched it on the Internet and through interviews with victims and social workers, and then wrote the play. The facts surrounding the subject matter were distressing, but the portrayal of the issue by the students is what made those facts hit home.
Violence and violation of trust were the main themes, and these were portrayed in various vignettes. There were: quieter scenes heavy with aggressive gestures, actions and facial expressions; dialogues that depicted individual horror stories; scenes where the perpetrators discussed their perverse perspectives; and chaotic scenes of brutal trafficking experiences involving numerous slaves. The frantic portrayal of the various short stories left me with feelings of anxiety and immediacy, as if all this was happening right now. And then the students tell you that, yes, indeed, all this is happening right now.
Especially horrifying was the scene depicting the group of Burmese children (we are told they are younger than 10 years old) who are thrown into the back of a truck, brought to Thailand, and stuck in brothels, where they are beaten and raped repeatedly, sometimes dozens of times in one evening. During that particular scene, one actor told his story, while the other children were abused around him.
Another particularly brutal scene included one of the women playing a discarded sex worker thrown on the streets to die after she had been totally used up by the traffickers, the pimps, and the johns. She was silent throughout the scene, illuminated by a single light in the center of the stage, but it was clear through the dismissive actions of the other actors surrounding her that she had been abandoned and physically destroyed, and worse yet, people shunned her after she was thrown out on the streets. Eventually she collapses in the middle of the stage, unable to move.
The disturbing stories are tied together with a brief, hurried scene reminiscent of Wall Street trading, which depict dozens of people racing around the stage, holding pads of paper, making transactions while at the same time telling the audience facts such as the sex trade “is a $32 billion international industry.” These scenes reminded the audience of the powerful driving forces behind the issue – sex and money – and drove the message home that prostitution is not something people participate in willingly.
At the end of the performance, you couldn’t help but ask yourself, “What is wrong with our world that we let things like this happen?” Luckily, the students offered time for discussion and questions. Having the opportunity to openly express their emotions gave the audience the chance to both delve more into the background of the material and also to figure out in what ways they could increase awareness of the issue.
Media outlets in the United States bring countless tragic situations to peoples’ living rooms. However, these are couched in between vacuous stories about Paris Hilton’s latest escapades and commercials about pharmaceuticals that stop you from excessively tapping your feet. The impact of the message disappears. The value of a play like “Boom Boom Yum Yum” is in its capacity to really send a message home and shift an audience’s consciousness. Though difficult to watch at times, the students should be commended for their excellent, thought-provoking work of art.