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Interview: Tackling the Sex Trade via Camden Fringe

Dominique Izabella Little on Sold By Mama

What’s so great about fringe theatre festivals is the absolutely incredible range of shows on offer and the multitude of themes explored. And Camden Fringe is no exception, offering shows from the whimsical through to the macabre.

Dominique Izabella Little’s Sold By Mama certainly falls in the more serious end of themes, as it seeks to explore the complexities of sex trafficking and the effects on those involved. It promises a delicate mix of addiction, mental illness and trauma, morphing childhood dreams into brothels and onto the streets of Los Angeles.

The show will be playing at Hen and Chickens Theatre 21, 22 (both 7:30pm) and 27 August (3:00pm). You can book tickets here.

Always eager to ensure such vital conversations are had, we sat down with Dominique to find out more about her show and whether it is one that might require a very open mind?

You’ve a background in documentary filmmaking, was this how you approached writing Sold By Mama?

My love of reality bleeds into everything I do in that I love unfiltered storytelling. The research and preparation for Sold By Mama are definitely in alignment with documentary. The play burst into my mind after a year of experiences that deeply impacted me, alongside watching hours and hours of doci interviews. The writing process was then about giving all that I had absorbed the space to combust into four new, raw and eccentric fictional characters. They share true encounters through the kind of conversation you would only ever have with a filmmaker, or a stranger that you never see again.

How much is the content of the play based on real lives and real events?

Sold By Mama is a bite sized snapshot into the very real global subculture of trafficking known as ‘the life’, along with its hierarchy, rules and jargon.  The women are based on multiple real lives and events.  I love the docu-fiction hybrid – where everything is exactly what happened, re-edited into fictional narrative (like much of the content labelled as ‘documentary’ or ‘reality’ today).  Because on the streets, it’s all hybrid and truth mixed with distortion lending itself to a pretty wild reality. The women finesse on the stage the same way they do on the streets, but even in the most flippant and lyrical rhyme, sits the harshest of truths.  This is a microscopic but intense insight into millions of women’s day-to-day reality. 

The play’s set on the streets of Los Angeles, why that location?

I moved to Los Angeles for acting, mid-pandemic, with a budget that could not afford a car, or an uber, so it meant walking the streets, and hours on buses and trains. Sounds like London, right?  If you’ve been to LA, you’ll know this is not a situation you want to find yourself in. It’s odd, growing up in Africa we are indoctrinated to believe things about the ‘first world’ which are incredibly disillusioning when you actually arrive. The homelessness rocked me.  I walk out of my hostel on Hollywood Blvd where the police just arrived for domestic violence, a mother and daughter are living in one room whose smell I can’t escape, and the richest, poorest people are living in tents everywhere as I walk the streets that look so immaculate on TV, yet so heartbreakingly desperate in person. I was grateful for every horrible second in that city which opened my eyes to the true heartbeat of LA. At the same time, I began my deep dive into all things cults, mind control, narcissism, psychopathy – I was in LA after all and its wonderful sunny skies are a breeding ground for twisting minds.  The rabbit hole led me to addiction, homelessness, pimping, sex work and trafficking. Most of the stories I was immersed in had links to LA, so I stayed true to that location in Sold By Mama.

And even though its thousands of miles away, is it still possible to relate to the people and places from our seats in Camden?

Camden sits snugly in a city where sex-trafficking happens daily. Whether it’s online or on the streets, any time somebody engages in a commercial sexual act through force or coercion, they have been trafficked. People often think trafficking only refers to being kidnapped, drugged and held captive for sex in another country where nobody can speak the language. It doesn’t. The experiences of the women in Sold By Mama are not unique to LA. Hustlers, dealers, pimps, clients, early influences of childhood and trauma, mental illness, addiction whether it be to sex, substances, fast money or freedom, all of this is universal. The pimping jargon might be LA specific, but the tactics aren’t: Find out what they need, satisfy that need, cause dependence through fear masked as enlightenment, where freedom equals bondage and the user is a slave to desire.  Even this isn’t specific to sex work, we go to university to learn how to do this in business, in political campaigns, on billboards. 

Sold By Mama certainly looks to be one of the heavier pieces playing at Camden Fringe, should we bring the tissues along with us?

The most striking thing about watching people talk about their experiences, is that sometimes the thing that hits you, is the thing they are most casual about and vice versa. What is shocking or unthinkable to you, is just a day in the life to someone else and part of life is using humour to get you through it. You might connect with one of the stories on a personal level, or you might simply enjoy an encounter with a world that seems far removed. There is however a trigger warning for both simple and complex PTSD triggers. Bring an open and questioning mind, Sold By Mama is non-linear and non-typical storytelling. The women are quick witted and sharp. You need a bit of that yourself to keep up amidst their hustle. They are playing the game as much as it is playing them, so don’t let them play you. 

What has brought you to London, and more specifically Camden for August then?

After training in New York / Los Angeles, I moved to London to deepen my acting practice in techniques I hadn’t yet explored. London is now home and Camden a beautiful opportunity to share exciting new work alongside artists who are doing the same.

You are writer, director and actor, how do you ensure there is release from what appears to be a very intense experience, do you have someone else just watching over proceedings as you put it all together to keep you sane?

With a project like Sold By Mama – I remind myself that this is an art, let go of perfect, forgive myself for anything that may or may not happen and pursue excellence with all I’ve got.  I am solo on this project, but I do have a core of very close relationships who not only provide me with release through their love and encouragement, but help me with things like poster design, cutting my ideas down to size, and a roof over my head. The work is just as much about relishing preparation and enjoying this one precious life in the process, even when the going gets tough. Freelancing as a creative has instilled fantastic work ethic, resourcefulness and resilience in me, but there is only so much one person can do.  I would love to work with a team, but it needs to be the right team, which is something I am seeking in an agent.  

Is this play’s themes something you hope to explore further in the future?

The wonderful thing about immersing yourself in things that interest you are that they tend to resurface with new faces in different seasons of life. Sold By Mama touches on so many themes common to so many which I am bound to explore in future roles. There is a very powerful exchange that can happen between performer and audience, my hope is that the work I do reaches the people who need it most. 

And besides your own play, are you hoping to get out and see some other work whilst the festival is on during August?  Any recommendations?

Yes!  Amongst so many talented artists, I would love to see Dog/Actor, Tree Confessions, By The Light of The Moon, We’ve Seen Enough, Roll The Dice, Bird Mouth Collective. 

Many thanks to Dominique for her time to talk about what we reckon will be a powerful piece of theatre.

You can book tickets via Camden Fringe’s website here.

You can also find out more about Dominique on her own website here.

About Everything Theatre

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