The "Elephant in the Room Series" confronts difficult social issues

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New Hampshire Theatre Project (NHTP) was created in 1988 with a mission to change lives through theatre. Outreach has always been important, including touring productions like Dreaming Again, the play commissioned by New Hampshire Humanities about immigrants in our state. This month, supported in part by a Community Project Grant, NHTP is launching a provocative series, “Elephant-in-the-Room,” featuring four plays about subjects that we as a society often have difficulty discussing: abuse and human trafficking, mental illness, the opioid crisis, and death and dying. 

Each event will be moderated by Timothy Barretto, known for his UNH courses on Managing Conflict in the Community, who will facilitate discussion among audience members, artists, and a panel of experts on the topic. Questions focus on attitudes about ethical issues involved in the subject over time and today, and our responsibility as a society to bring these issues out of the shadows and into the cultural mainstream. 

Whoa, you think. The last thing I want to do is see one of these plays. Or talk about them!

NHTP is betting that won’t be its audiences’ reaction. In 2017, NHTP hosted workshops and coaching sessions for New Hampshire Humanities-funded “30 Pages in 30 Days,” a social issue playwriting competition created by Prescott Park Arts Festival. After staged readings of each of the top three plays, a large and enthusiastic audience had all kinds of questions. The fourth runner-up script, focusing on heroin addiction, was presented at NHTP’s annual play reading festival. NHTP Artistic director Genevieve Aichele says, “The extraordinary reaction to these readings and the post-reading discussions that followed is the inspiration for this Elephant-in-the-Room series.” (See exciting news about “30 Pages,” too, in our December issue.)

The first event, on abuse and human trafficking, features a reading of Deborah Fortson’s Body & Sold, based on the true stories of human trafficking in the U.S. While many believe human trafficking is a relic of the past, the discussion will focus on the reasons for its continued existence and what local and global changes need to be made to combat this ugly truth. Panelists include Dr. Alicia W. Peters of the University of New England (UNE), Joi Smith of HAVEN, and Cheri Crider of Courage Speaks NH.

Dr. Peters, associate professor of anthropology and affiliated faculty in the UNE Women and Gender Studies Program, brings a humanities perspective to the discussion. Her research examines how cultural understandings of gender and sexuality influence conceptions of human trafficking and the implementation of U.S. anti-trafficking law and policy. Dr. Peters is the author of Responding to Human Trafficking: Sex, Gender, and Culture in the Law, and is currently conducting an ethnographic study of the human trafficking response in northern New England.

Body & Sold, a play reading
Thursday, November 16, 7:00 pm
NHTP/WEST, 959 Islington St., Portsmouth
Free admission. Donations to HAVEN and Courage Speaks NH welcome.

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