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Rendezvous: Play about trafficking of young girls gets first out-state showing Sunday in Benson

Rendezvous “follows a prostituted child in her recovery as a victim of human trafficking,” according to information from Cardboard Productions. The 14-year-old character named “Olive” — played by a 14-year-old actor — arranges to meet her new “customer” at a diner. The production will be presented at 7 p.m. Sunday at First Evangelical Church, 900 13t St. S., Benson.
BENSON — A 14-year-old Minnesota girl faced with the harsh results of selling her body for money is the focus of a play on human trafficking that’ll be presented Sunday night in Benson.
 The performance of “Rendezvous” by the Minneapolis-based theater company Cardboard Productions set for 7 p.m. at the First Evangelical Free Church, 900 13th Street South. A freewill offering will be taken to offset the cost of the performance, which is sponsored by Heartland Girls’ Ranch, a residential treatment program that works with girls, including those who have spent some of their tender young years as a child prostitute. (See related story on Page A1.) The state’s Human Trafficking Task Force has identified Heartland Girls’ Ranch as a leader in greater Minnesota to help girls who have been “trafficked and exploited,” said CeCe Terlouw, executive director of Heartland Girls’ Ranch.
 Terlouw said some people think that the girls at Heartland are “just bad girls” and don’t realize some are “victims” of human trafficking. She said the play will be a “great opportunity” for the community to learn about the issue, the challenges these girls face, and about the help and healing provided at the ranch, which uses horses as part of its therapy. “There are so many children that need help. I want people to understand and be aware,” said Terlouw. A panel discussion will follow the hour-long play. Prior to the public showing, the play will be presented exclusively for the Heartland Girls’ Ranch residents.
 The play “follows a prostituted child in her recovery as a victim of human trafficking,” according to information from Cardboard Productions.The 14-year-old character named “Olive” — played by a 14-year-old actor —  arranges to meet her new “customer” at a diner and a “night of horrifying reality tests the boundaries of how far one is willing to go for a complete stranger.” The play was written by Sarah Howes, who is studying law at William Mitchell. During a recent phone interview with the West Central Tribune, Howes said she got the inspiration for the play during one of her classes where Ramsey County Attorney John Choi played an actual audio recording of a 911 call of a girl who was trapped in a Minneapolis hotel room and forced to have sex. The girl feared she would be killed. During that class Howes said she learned that many of the male customers are “upper class family men” who may have had daughters of their own.
 She wrote the play to show the reality of human trafficking in Minnesota, and to demonstrate how people can help girls like Olive. Howes said the play features an adult woman, who is an “everyday person” who sees Olive as a “little girl” and not as a “tramp or troublemaker.” She said people tend to “care a lot about the really cute kids that are adorable” but see kids “with a dark past” as someone who doesn’t deserve love. Through the medium of storytelling, the play shows these girls as children who are victimized, who didn’t choose to be put in a “bad situation,” said Kira Ackbarali, who started Cardboard Productions with Howes and is co-producer of the play. “Our goal is for the audience to connect with these characters and their soul of what they’re really thinking,” said Ackbarali. “We’re telling the story of regular people for the most part, and it hits close to home,” she said. “It’s an emotional piece.” The play premiered earlier this month at William Mitchell.  The performance Sunday in Benson is the first time the play has been shown outside the metro area. Using on-site tables and chairs, the bare-bones props for the play can fit into two cardboard boxes, said Howes.  That makes it possible for Cardboard Productions and its troupe of eight actors to easily travel around the state to perform the play in a variety of settings. A stage is not necessary, she said. Howes said while researching information for her play she heard about the work Heartland Girls’ Ranch is doing and wanted to support their efforts by bringing the play to Benson.Ackbarali said they wanted to bring the message to Greater Minnesota and chose Benson because they were “inspired” by the work at Heartland Girls’ Ranch. “They are curers,” said Ackbarali.
Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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