Exposed Innocent Flesh - Part 2

Interview with Marc Cabourdin 

and Director's Notes

What drove you to direct a play on human trafficking?

Primarily two things: first of all it’s community theatre - something I do and enjoy doing, so the narrative and my focus has been social commentary. Why Innocent Flesh, because for the past eighteen months I’ve been doing work with migrants. I’ve been looking at human trafficking from that kind of aspect, so when I was given the opportunity to talk about human trafficking but from that layer of sex trafficking, that made it an ideal play to take on and get to work.Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

Aside the fact that Wesley Ellul was the one who presented the script to you that brought it on . . .Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

Wesley and I work together. The formula we try to stick and keep doing for the first time and for the first year is to create theatre, and to re-create a company that’s not just say comedy. It’s finally a model where you have the piece that can bring in the money, and when one does that, you have before you your artistic piece and your community piece, and Innocent Flesh was the community piece, as simple as that.
Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

As the director, how did you manage to develop the play onto the stage? When you read it did you envision it? Was it a developing process that came along in participation with the actresses?Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

Yes, you read the play many a times, and you study it; you know it and you know it inside out, and before you actually get to read it with the actors you have a beautiful vision.

I am a firm believer of creating a piece organically, and that the starting point of every actor in developing a story starts from the self. What happens then is it changes, so what you do is you play upon the strengths and the weaknesses of the characters and the actors you have. So what you would have tuned is leaning to the self, because if we were to present it with a different set of actors, the piece would change dramatically.

I always go about starting from the self. The process used when we first started rehearsals for the first few weeks was very much first studying the self rather than the characters. We asked questions of ourselves, saw the places in our lives as a teenager where maybe there was a moment where life could have taken us onto a different path, and when we found that moment we were able to invest into the characters that were in Innocent Flesh.Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

Remember, Innocent Flesh was nearly partly a piece of theatre. When Kenyetta had written it, the text - the words were very much the true words of the girls she had actually encountered and worked with. We had to create that value of reality and what I call the ‘currency of truth’, what is the currency we were using.

In order to allow the people to be invested in it and to have the spectator engaged, first we needed them to see that these are real people. Hence to start off from a real person you have to start from yourself, and that is the value the actors actually found, discovered and nurtured throughout the process of the piece: how to be real. Not to be performers, not to be entertainers, not to be re-enactors but how to be artists; to be actors – to be anthropologically correct, to be journalists. The system we use is starting off by playing games, the game of objects that Stanislavski speaks about, to discover our truth.Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

The theatre is not life; it is life as it ought to be. You take it so much higher, it’s got to be up there all the time.

I noticed in the production that there were patterns of provocative-ness to innocence to each girl telling her story. How did you bring into action this synchronisation? Did the script help you in some way? Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

The thing is, it was because the people are organic. When you are starting on very strong foundations and you invest in the time, in the people and in what their story is, in what their objective is, when you have the four different actors talking about them, talking on, telling us their story and not just telling us but driving - because that’s what it means, to drive the story, the richness of such a piece is for it to be very indulgent. So it could be all about like, “Oh look at me. I’m a poor prostitute and my mummy doesn’t love me and I want to go back home”, and that would have been polished. That would have otherwise been your regular teen soap opera, you know - ‘dramm’.

What allowed for those images you just spoke of was the fact that we always played, and technically speaking it’s a little incorrect to say this, but we always went against the ‘vain’ of the text.

One of the tricks we used, let’s just say if in one of the scenes it’s read as though one of the girls is in pain, we played against the pain. So what we did is like, “Ok, there’s pain. We’ve got to cover it up with humour”. And that is how those vignettes started getting created, because then what happens is that when you see something truthful happening – and also do remember what an artist does is primarily holding up a mirror, saying ‘this is what I’m seeing’. When the actors gave me what they were giving me that is what you then start creating. In that sense, as much as it was scripted, the beauty of an organic piece is that I take lots of lightness into changing things around, and that is only because I use its strengths and weaknesses.

A lot of time, especially in the Maltese scene, if you don’t speak in a particular way, if you don’t stand in a particular way, they’re considered weaknesses. But they’re not. That’s human. They’re frailties that make you true, rather truthful. You play with that. You try not to hide it, you know? You try and hide a big hole in the wall you’re just going to make a mess of it. You just expose the wall, and turn it into a piece of art and say, “no I wanted that hole there”; give it its relevance and to just not shy away from it. Just go with it, be bold. You’ve got to be bold, not be shy of it and play with what you have.Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

Speaking on developing the characters.

You start from the self. We still do not know or I may be generalizing, but a lot of people think because you sing and dance and you do something like this you’re an actor. But no – one has to understand that this is between a performer, an entertainer and an actor. That’s three different elements altogether; it’s like you’re talking of a musician, a painter and a singer, they are three distinct disciplinary arts.

With Innocent Flesh what I would like to think is that it does climb one more round towards being an actor. So that is what we used and brought up; it’s the actor-artist apart from himself. It started from there, it’s what we used. And then yes we started creating bits of variables of the text. In the sense, being a play and being in a play, we are allowed to do things that in life we’re not allowed to do, hence referring previously to playing and boldness.Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

Starting from that, if I had to be faced with such a situation and I wanted to go for broke, how would I face it out? What are all the options? How would I drive that to its fullest? And that’s where we picked it off. So it wasn’t from what are the rhythms of this or how do you stand – no. Not all that, because if you're real it just happens.Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

You made Candace and a particular sub-character Maltese - but mostly Candace. Talk abit further about that decision of making one of the characters local.

That was a decision I had taken previously, even having held auditions. Ideally I wanted them to be four different voices, to have four different nationalities.Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

I think actually with Candace that is an example of what I was talking about before, especially in the English-speaking theatre world. The idea is if the currency we’re dealing with is truth, and for this you have plays in Malta who could expose the situation and the reality that is alive in Malta, you could not have had anything but a Maltese girl there.

Anything less would have been rubbish; would have not been real. So Candace specifically was made to be that from the very beginning and I wanted to have a Maltese-speaking actor, rather than an English speaking actor speaking Maltese. That was a very specific decision. I tried looking for different ethnicities, but it was very hard to come by. They didn’t turn up for the auditions.Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

We did our research - anything less is not art. Hence it is why we worked with the Women’s Rights Foundation.

 Proving human trafficking is
not some sort of a myth,
not something only found in movies.
It’s there.
It’s real.

Of course – absolutely! There’s a lot of information, even if you want to scratch the surface. You understand and realise that the stories that were put up during Innocent Flesh are actually truthful.

I still remember when I started reading the script,Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

I thought,

“Well, is it relevant to Malta?”

Then you realise . . .Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

What’s written and true to L.A.
it’s true to Malta,
it’s true to Rome,
it’s true to Moscow.

These stories happen the world around.

It’s a modern day reality
which also probably goes
the socio-economical-political reality
that we face with,
what’s been happening these past 10, 12 years
the situation is only
to get

What do you personally think is the main factor that drives and keeps human trafficking striving on today? –Copyright © Diandra A. 2013


It’s a 1.5 billion dollar industry. Globally.

It’s about making money off people; something that has been going on forever. 
It boils up to primarily just that.

Money to be made off the living. It’s something that somebody wants to buy.

Money and Lust.

How do you think we individually need to stop this?

To say “to stop” is a very finite statement. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s ever that easy.

But what one can start doing is something very simple: using art to expose. That is what the artist does. The artist is not there to judge or to justify, but to say, “Look, this is how things are”. As a result, when you meet people like Innocent Flesh, you might pick somebody to actually start thinking about it and reflect about the person, their situation and their background.Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

A lot of times these girls do it willingly. These boys do it willingly too. But one has to see where it’s coming from.Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

It’s a chicken-and-egg situation. What do you stop – the victim or the perpetrator? Who is actually the victim and who is truly the perpetrator? It’s like saying ‘how do I stop crime’.Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

With human trafficking per se, it’s about keeping your ears open, keeping your eyes open; not dismiss it and not thinking that this thing never happened.Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

On my director’s notes of Innocent Flesh I placed the quote, “not in my backyard”; yet you can be surprised. There was a situation, over a year ago, there were girls kept as/by criminals in a flat in Paceville. We’re not talking about in the middle of a desert here.

Can it be stopped – I don’t know. 

Should we stop it – of course absolutely!Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

But I think the most important thing to do is allow people to be aware of the situation without judging. Without passing any judgement, without saying what is and what is not, but just tell them, “listen, this is what’s happening”. And then people will make their own mind up.


'NOT FOR SALE' - Philip Leone-Ganado's article on human trafficking in SundayCircle.

SUPPORT Chris Dingli's project Palermo - Palermo Team Website
How Palermo came to be - Film Treatment

Mira Sorvino's Speech against Trafficking

Few films worth watching: 
- 'Human Trafficking' starring Mira Sorvino & Donald Sutherland (Trailer)

'Trade' starring Kevin Kline

- 'Sex Traffic' starring John Simm
'Watching Sex Traffic is not a horrible experience because it works well as a thriller
so it's exciting and you are always gunning for the good guys - but you can't escape
the fact that it's a depressing subject matter". John Simm


Director’s Note to Innocent Flesh: “Not in my backyard!”

Surprisingly enough it is not as uncommon as we think. Paraphrasing Dr. Lara Sciberras, of the Woman’s Rights Foundation, “there is more of them than there is of us”. What did she mean? Our first conversation leant towards the socio economic reality of girls and families that find themselves in dire situations and resort to the oldest job in the world. But there is more to it than that.Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

It is very easy for the bourgeois class to tut in disapproval and turn their heads in shock horror. The truth is that the sex trade is worth 31.5 billion dollars globally. Let us not fool ourselves that sex trafficking and slavery is alien to Malta. The 4 stories you’re about to witness are very real and very much true.

When Wesley approached me with Kenyetta’s script, my first reaction was to think that the piece was not Malta centric enough, but with research, investigation and analysis, you realise that these stories are the same the world over. More pertinently these girls and their stories are a very modern day Maltese reality.Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

We all know of the street in Gzira, but there is more to it than that. It is very ‘comforting’ to think that that is our only reality. Yet we have all heard of a salon or of a guest house or of a flat or of a club . . . but as an island nation we are happy to not think too much about it.

“What? Girls kept prisoners in a flat in Paceville? As if . . . How’s that possible? U ajma can’t they just run away?” you protest. If only life were that simple. So black and white.

It does not take much, to really see what is happening in Malta, and there is so much more that we are blind and oblivious to.

For the 4 young actors playing these girls, it wasn’t as daunting or as far-fetched, as they had the will and daring to invest fully into their characters. The process of the piece revolved around their own personal journeys as teenagers. In the back of the cupboard of one’s emotional lock up, one always finds a moment were an event was the catalyst for a choice and a new path trodden.Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

We are not here to justify, judge or comment on the truth. We are simply exposing it. As an artist it is my duty to hold up a mirror to society, and in turn let is bask in its glory, or balk at its failures.

Technically the piece reads very much like a radio play, with its rich eloquent text, and theatrically it is great work and a pleasure to devise the moments and vignettes that you will see develop in front of you. The design and aesthetic of the piece mirrors and juxtaposes the inner thoughts of the girls and drives the action and narrative poetically.

Nadia, Tina, Sarah Jane and Simone brought all of themselves. They come together as a chorus, they break way in to their respective roles and they mirror each other’s character’s journey. Their generosity, focus and specificity have allowed me to shape up the piece for the theatre in its purest form.Copyright © Diandra A. 2013

Marc Cabourdin

                    To read Part 1 click here
Innocent Flesh to be performed again 
on Saturday 15th March 
MITP Theatre, Valletta

Copyright © Diandra A. 2014