Few locations have inspired more creativity than Earnestine & Hazel's. The tavern's facade appears in paintings. Its interiors show up in movies. Dancers have celebrated the Soul Burger, and artists of every kind have delved into the former bordello's seedy past. Usually it's the bar's sordid history that inspires, but all the stories about pimps and prostitutes inspired Squaring Up producer Aliza Moran to stop exoticizing the past and take a sober look at the present. Squaring Up, which opens this week at the Orange Mound Gallery, is an immersive and educational tour of human trafficking and the Memphis sex trade.
"Memphis has the highest rate of sex trafficking in the state," Moran says. "And whenever I talked to anybody about this they seemed surprised. A lot of people just don't know."
- Squaring Up
Moran's a versatile actor well known around town for her committed performances in shows like Sylvia at Theatre Memphis and Haint at TheatreWorks. But traditional performance just wasn't satisfying her anymore. "I was bored," she says. Project 1 Collaborative Arts was born from that boredom and a desire to reconnect with the kind of socially aware work she'd focused on in graduate school. Research brought Moran in contact with Thistle & Bee Enterprises, a not-for-profit supporting survivors of Memphis' sex trade. A partnership was established, and the elusive project came into focus.
"People look at human trafficking and say it's just crime. They think it has nothing to do with them," says Squaring Up director Julia Hinson. "There's an old saying that prostitution is the oldest profession. I call it the world's oldest oppression."
Using movement and monologue, Squaring Up turns survivor stories into an immersive theater experience. Admission to all shows is pay-what-you-can.