Oakland’s notorious sex traffic is hardly hidden. A simple drive down International Boulevard from Fifth Avenue to Fruitvale Avenue reveals a constant parade of sex workers, many under age, with the cast of characters constantly revolving. No matter how many times the community marches to call for an end to prostitution, or the Oakland Police Department conducts round-ups, the sex and exploitation continue.
Bay Area playwright Tracie Collins, who discovered the women soliciting male drivers of passing cars regardless of hour or weather, began to wonder what had brought them to ply their trade on the streets. “What better way to bring awareness to the subject than to write about it and bring it to the stage?” she told the San Francisco Examiner.
Upon reaching out to several different agencies who work with prostitutes, Collins was surprised by the amount of resistance she encountered.
“They were not open to bringing awareness to this area,” she says. “I don’t know why, and it was very disappointing. I really wanted to speak to the women, and never would have put anyone in harm’s way. But the organizations never even asked my intent or purpose. Everyone on my team who tried to reach out to them failed.”
Undaunted, Collins began to gather information online. Incorporating particular Oakland landmarks into her story, she constructed the tale of Midnight, a 17-year-old dark-skinned African-American sex-worker whose father is the pastor of the largest church in Oakland and a bishop in the community.
Opening this week, her play “Cold Piece of Werk” follows Midnight from family to the street, and also explores what may come next.
“As an artist, I see it as my responsibility to ruffle feathers and bring awareness to controversial provocative subjects, especially those impacting women,” says Collins. Among the touchy topics she explores are human and sex trafficking, and the sizable black market business in organ trafficking.
Even more taboo, at least in some circles, is the under-discussed issue of “colorism” within the African-American community – the favoritism toward lighter skinned people, and the deep-seated family roots and racism that have perpetuated “colorism” since the time of slavery.
Collins, 39, has been involved in the arts since her formative years in school. When she returned to theater in her late 20s early 30, she found her niche in writing, producing, directing, and acting.
“It’s something that when it’s in you, you have to do,” she says. “My job, being an African-American woman and single mother of three, is to really empower women, one way or another. But I’m also here to help give a voice to the voiceless.”
IF YOU GO
Cold Piece of Werk
Where: Kaiser Center Lakeside Theatre, 300 Lakeside Drive, second floor, Oakland
When: 3 and 7 p.m. March 14-15
Tickets: $25 to $35