Human trafficking 'Shadows' at Wharton Center

Feb 14, 2017

The Wharton Center’s new production, Among The Darkest Shadows, deals with the issue of human trafficking. Yesterday, WKAR’s Jamie Paisley spoke with some of the creators (which you can explore by clicking here) and today, brings us deeper into the fictional setting of the show: Shadowtown.


For Bert Goldstein, of the MSUFCU Institute of Creativity and Arts at the Wharton Center, once he decided to focus on commissioning a piece of theater about human trafficking, the decision to bring the Inlet Dance Theater and choreographer Bill Wade onto the project was an easy one.

"You know, when you sit down and talk with another artist about a collaboration, you sometimes get a feeling right away that this is going to work. But with Bill and I, we had really good communication right off about the project. So, I pretty much made the decision then. I said Inlet would be the right choice for this." said Goldstein.

Underneath what's obvious, there are some pretty horrific things going on everywhere in this country - Bill Wade

Bill Wade also agrees that it's a good fit. "I haven't run into— literally I've not run into one person who's been surprised that I've been asked to do this. Focusing on social injustice of social issues is not new to me as a choreographer, or to the company. This event we're experiencing is unusual in that it's an entire full piece, and I'm a repertory guy. I make pieces that are anywhere from four minutes to 40 minutes long. So this is an entire evening. It is text and image driven. The image part I got. The text has been a really fun challenge."

And for those textual portions of Among The Darkest Shadows, that comes from playwright José Cruz González. The dance portions of the piece remain with choreographer Bill Wade… well, mostly by Bill Wade. "Everything that Inlet Dance Theater creates, we create collaboratively." says Wade. "I mean, ultimately, I'm the choreographer at the helm, but everything we do in the studio, it's a collaboration of the people that are inside the studio at the time. We have approached all of the different scenes like 'What is the objective of this moment?' 'Why are we doing this scene?' 'Why did José write this and what is José after?' 'What are the characters and where are they now as opposed to the scene prior, or after this moment?'"

While research done by the Inlet Dance Theater centered around real life cases of human trafficking, the setting of Among The Darkest Shadows is the fictional locale called Shadowtown. "When you hear human trafficking, or, like, a cultural slavery or labor trafficking, people think 'Oh, it’s out there or it’s down in the inner city. inner ring, or urban' and that’s inaccurate." says Wade. "Where it's any town that if you look in the shadows of that town, it could be urban, it could be rural, it could be suburban. Underneath what's obvious, there are some pretty horrific things going on everywhere in this country."

It's not a literal, sort-of Martin Scorsese production - Bert Goldstein

Dealing with human trafficking is an undeniably difficult subject matter at the heart of Among The Darkest Shadows. But Bert Goldstein says the production is sensitive to an audience of many backgrounds and ages. "Any students seeing this, or any teacher or parent should not be concerned that anything is going to be explicit. There's no images, there's no nudity, there's nothing like that. It's all done in a way that's all highly metaphorical. Remember, we're telling the story through dance. We're telling the story through the style of magic realism. So, it's not a literal, sort-of Martin Scorsese production of this issue. We're offering a message of hope. I mean, it's a dreary subject matter, but José has written a play where the human spirit has the potential to triumph. And the survivors we talked to, those that survived, went on to lead productive lives, children, careers. They never got over it, but they moved beyond it. And so I think there is a very strong message of hope and peace."

This co-production of Among The Darkest Shadows with the Inlet Dance Theater and the Wharton Center has performances Feb 16-19.
Additionally, you can find many resources and background information related to human trafficking at the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force of Michigan by clicking here.