Audience face to face with the horrors of human trafficking


Registered, weighed and stripped of their belongings, audience members were blindfolded and pushed into a makeshift pig pen before the show had even begun.

The ordeal came as part of theatre performance Sk!n, held at the Abbotsford Convent last weekend.

Sk!n is an immersive and participatory performance on human trafficking, inviting the audience to experience the raw fear and emotion of commodification of human beings.

Inspired by actual events, the show sought to bring the audience into the world of human trafficking using sinister sets, ethereal choreography and haunting imagery.

The audience gets personally involved in Sk!n, a play about human trafficking. Picture: Darshen Chelliah

Sk!n was created by Terence Conrad and Govin Ruben from Malaysian-based theatre company TerryandTheCuz.

The duo began their research over two years ago, interviewing more than 120 human trafficking victims to create the captivating performance.

They collaborated with local NGOs, including Malaysian Human Rights organisation Tenaganita, which receives a portion of proceeds from ticket sales.

Mr Conrad said in a post-production discussion he was shocked at the similarities in stories of human trafficking victims.

“There was a pattern … so many people experienced the same thing,” he said.

The action takes place in two connected containers. Picture: Darshen Chelliah

“You’d get 150 victims in a room with six captors, and people would follow orders.”

With the backdrop of Abbotsford’s ex-monastic site, the audience was ordered around by crew members dressed in black TerryandtheCuz shirts, many sporting dark sunglasses.

“Stand facing the wall. Eyes in front. Squat,” the crew members yelled.

Commands were spat at the audience with authority and malice and the audience was never left unsupervised – at least 20 eyes watched the group closely at any given time.

Once the audience was processed, with their weight, physical appearance, and size while squatting being recorded recorded, members were siphoned off into three pig pens.

The group was expected to obey commands and follow instructions.

The crux of the performance took place in two shipping containers loaded onto trucks and parked side by side, with one container for the audience and the second acting as the stage.

The doors of the second container opened up to the audience revealing a stage modelled after a butcher shop – white tiles lined the inside and meat hooks protruded from the ceiling.

The simple stage used every centimetre available with actors occasionally spilling over into the second truck, mere millimetres between them and the audience’s faces.

With the use of blue and red lights and smoke machines, the audience was transported to an unearthly, eerie, and harrowing muddle of dance choreography and wordless acting, depicting the hazy, monotonous, and nonautonomous experience of a trafficking victim.

Members of the audience are blindfolded during “processing”. Picture Darshen Chelliah

At the end of the show, several audience members were pulled onto the second truck and placed on chairs hanging on the meat hooks before being driven off.

The remaining audience members were given champagne and cheese, massages and hawaiian flower garlands, encouraged to celebrate the fact that “they cared”.

Initially perceived as a convoluted guilt trip, a discussion with Mr Conrad revealed the show’s true purpose.

“It’s not to make you feel guilty,” he said.

“It’s not to mock fundraisers … it’s to make [the audience] question whether [they’re] doing enough to help.

“If they feel guilty, they probably aren’t.”

Mr Conrad added the purpose of the show was to promote discussion and critique with audience members encouraged to mingle and converse with each other.

“We can’t say if anyone is doing enough,” Mr Conrad said.

“We don’t know if we’re doing enough … we want people to talk and discuss.”

Mr Conrad added he was still shocked at the prevalence of human trafficking, having discovered multiple organisations in cities around Australia dedicated to helping victims.

“It’s everywhere.”

The show has played in Bendigo and Melbourne, with organisers hoping to perform in Darwin, Brisbane, and New South Wales (Merrigong) in 2018, and Europe in 2020.