The Street Performance
In the spring of 2014, I was given a hefty challenge from an art professor: create a piece of work NOT in a traditional media and that included public interaction. WHAT! It was quite a challenge for me considering I had not done anything outside of traditional media up to that point and had certainly never done a performance art piece. My mind jumped directly to human trafficking and expanding the work that I do for advocating about social issues through art.
Fast forward a few weeks of tireless work later, and I was standing on a street by the old historical courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh wearing a white tattered dress and sporting black face paint covered with rhinestones. Four of my friends/collaborators either stood beside me in equally outrageous outfits, handed out flyers and spoke to passing pedestrians, or took photographs of us in the demonstration.
It was a horrifically freezing day and raining a light drizzle. I was also barefoot in my costume. Did I mention it was freezing? There weren’t many people on the street, and even fewer were near the picturesque spot by the courthouse we chose next to a bus stop. People were cold and uninterested in anything other than finding a warm place out of the rain. Could we have been given worse weather for the big day? We handed out only a few meager pamphlets out of the 200 print copies on hand.
While we stood in the rain, sometimes in poses and sometimes interacting by handing out the flyers, our photographer Howard Kim snapped some amazing photographs. He beautifully captured the spirit and message of the demonstration and brought the project to a whole other level!
After not even perhaps 20 to 30 minutes later, a security guard of the historic landmark courthouse told us we would be arrested if we hung out on the sidewalk by the courthouse any longer. (I guess I didn’t do my research on where one can do these things very well!) This both flustered us and amused us. Flustered because we were advocating for a righteous cause and not causing any harm or commotion. Amused because how often can one say they were almost arrest for doing an artistic street demonstration! (One might almost consider that a badge of honor in this line of work.)
Was the street demo a success? I’d honestly call it a bust. But a few interesting things did happen: seeing the reactions of the few people that came by. A few were interested in what we were doing and likewise interested in the topic, many didn’t know anything about human trafficking, some completely lost interest in us as soon as they found out what it was for, and a surprising number of men seemed to find my tattered (yet still rather modest) dress and my painted face very appealing, were keen on flirting, and were very UNinterested in what the demonstration was about – even while I was covered in painted symbols of slavery. Their reactions (albeit mild) really impressed upon me a micro view of our macro society – people who knew and wanted to help, people who wanted to help but didn’t know how, people who simply didn’t care, and people who were interested in buying into and perpetuating the problem. Ultimately, I didn’t reach the number of people I wanted to with this project, but their reactions on the street were as telling and important to the project as the numbers – and THAT alone could turn into a telling sociology write up one day.
This project was a beautiful collaboration between myself and several other talented creators. While the project idea and direction is credited to me, I couldn’t have done it – nor would it have been so impactful – without the help of all of these wonderful people:
Stephanie Oplinger – Lead Artist, Demonstration Creator & Organizer, Costume Designer, Event Model
Howard Kim – Project Photographer
Courtney Lotz – Assistant Costume Designer, Event Model
Krystal Ritenour – Pamphlet Design
Ruby Sobus – Pamphlet Photographer
Ronald Hoffman – Event Model
Kaitlin Davis – Event Helper
Daniel Blake – Film Music
Information on Human Trafficking & Modern Slavery
Human Trafficking & Modern Slavery
The Human Tableaux Project and the 365 Day Charity Project are both about raising awareness and money for the survivors of human trafficking and modern day slavery. The following is a compilation of information and resources about these current event issues:
What can I do to help?
Glad you asked! There are many ways (including donations) that you can help, but here are just a few suggestions on ACTIONS you can take to get started making a difference:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”