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Touring Play for Seventh Grade Students on Human Trafficking Could Be a Life Saver 

Antoinella Pierre, Nathalie Andrade, and Natalie Donahue McMahon.

Palm Beach Dramaworks announces

West Palm Beach, FL – Florida has a significant human trafficking problem. The state ranks third in the country in the number of cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Palm Beach County ranks third in Florida in the number of cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. In 2020, the most recent year for which there are complete national statistics compiled by the hotline, there were 738 reported cases of human trafficking in Florida: 28% of those who were trafficked for sex were minors, and almost 85% of those were female. The average age of sex-trafficked teens in PBC is 13.  

When Palm Beach Dramaworks Director of Education and Community Engagement Gary Cadwallader was told by a school principal that teen human trafficking “keeps me up at night,” he and Producing Artistic Director William Hayes were determined that PBD would help bring awareness of this lurking danger to the county’s students.

They commissioned playwright Eric Coble to write a play about human trafficking and online safety that would be presented free to seventh grade students in Palm Beach County schools. The result is the powerful Live to Tell, in which three 15-year-old girls from very different backgrounds reveal how they were preyed upon by savvy predators and trapped in the world of sex trafficking. 

The response to the play by students demonstrates the impact theatre can have to enlighten, to change lives, and, with this play, even save lives. “It shows, tells us what could happen/would happen if we’re not careful,” one student commented. “It can help us save someone from going through the same thing the characters were,” said another.

Live to Tell will be performed at various PBC middle schools during September as part of PBD’s One Humanity Tour, a professional touring program that began in 2017 with a commissioned play for sixth graders called Swagger, also written by Coble. The One Humanity Tour was created with assistance from the School District of Palm Beach County and the West Palm Beach Police Department, and conceived out of the conviction that theatre can contribute to the development of informed, thoughtful, and compassionate citizens. Swagger, which is also being performed this month, addresses the tensions between the public and law enforcement from different vantage points, and has thus far played to over 19,500 students. Each performance of both plays is followed by a talkback, and there are supplemental materials for teachers, administrators, and parents.   

As PBD prepared to launch Live to Tell in 2020, Cadwallader was guided by local agencies that help track and prosecute traffickers, including the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, the West Palm Beach Police Department, and The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as well as trafficking awareness educators like the Human Trafficking Coalition of the Palm Beaches.

The post-performance talkback includes interviews, conducted by cast members, with a behavioral health specialist and a representative from the Human Trafficking Coalition of the Palm Beaches about online safety, and emphasizes to students how their smartphones are a gateway for traffickers. Students are asked to fill out a post-performance survey, and at the very bottom of the page is a message that says: “If there is a situation in your life where you feel uncomfortable and would like to speak with a trusted adult, please say so below. Turn in this paper directly to your teacher.” It also provides additional ways to get help.  

Live to Tell managed just a few performances in 2020 before everything shut down, but its effectiveness was immediately apparent. “We know for certain by comments we received on our post-performance surveys that we are making an impact with students during the performance and talkback, and raising red flags about predatory behavior,” said Cadwallader. “We are not only telling a compelling story of three young people ensnared in trafficking, but hopefully saving young people from falling into the trap of coercion and exploitation. We know that Live to Tell can help save a young person from trauma or death by defining human trafficking and showing them examples of what could happen if you fall prey to traffickers.”

Susan Kanoff and Susan J. Gurspan of the Human Trafficking Coalition of the Palm Beaches added, “Contrary to what many people assume, trafficking occurs within our very own communities to people at all socio-economic levels of all backgrounds. Live to Tell is an eye-opening exposure to the dangers and realities of human trafficking, and a compelling way to educate our youth about staying safe and protecting themselves from traffickers.” 

Live to Tell is funded by Impact 100 Palm Beach County and the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Palm Beach Dramaworks is a professional, nonprofit theatre company founded in 2000 and located in the heart of downtown West Palm Beach. Each season, the award-winning company produces five mainstage shows and offers a wide variety of programs for students at the theatre, in schools, and online. Committed to fostering the future of theatre, PBD has become a hub for playwrights in Florida and around the country to nurture their work through initiatives including Drama(in the)works and the annual New Year/New Plays Festival. PBD is a member of Theatre Communications Group, Florida Professional Theatres Association, and the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County.

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