I continue to be impressed by and compelled to write about Yellow Rose Productions. As I’ve said before, I met Danielle Roos and Kerri Koczen in Scruffy City Hall when they approached me and asked why I was taking photographs. I followed that with a story about the production company in January of 2014, about their great production, “Fiction,” a month later and then their next production, “Princess Cut,” which the two wrote in conjunction with Kelsey Broyles, in June of last year.
The pair and the production company have been caught in a whirlwind of activity since that production and I sat down with them to catch up. It seems “Princess Cut,” a personal, original screenplay about sex trafficking caught them a bit off guard. Originally intended to be a one-night performance at the Square Room, they’ve subsequently performed the play two consecutive nights in Loudon, two nights in Nashville and, most recently, two nights at UT’s Carousel Theatre.
As they’ve worked their way through these runs they’ve changed small things about the script. It now emphasizes and humanizes the other girls in the ring, focuses more on some of the relationships in the play. It also delves more deeply into the various reasons girls are caught up in sex trafficking. It’s complicated and rarely starts with an abduction. Most girls in sex trafficking are U.S. citizens and many in Tennessee are trafficked by family members.
The play serves to challenge our perceptions and encourage dialog on the topic. It hues very closely to the story told directly to Danielle and Kerri by the person involved. She helped write the script and has seen the production. I can attest to its power. Kerri Koczen, in the lead role, is so convincing that the next time Urban Woman and I saw her, we needed to make sure she was OK. It’s an important message and one with which they want to reach as many people as possible.
Danielle and Kerri agree that through the course of the production they have become less naive. They’ve learned a great deal about trafficking and they’ve been amazed at the success of the play. Kerri said, “We never imagined a one-night production would become this.” They each noted that the topic has been given more media attention in the last year, from the attention around the Superbowl, to its emergence as an area of expertise in the Loretta Lynch hearings. Danielle said, “The issue seems to be getting a lot of attention and people seem to be opening their eyes more.”
All of which led to an idea. Damon Boggess, a producing member of the company, suggested they submit an application to the New York International Fringe Festival. Thousands of production companies apply to the festival and about two hundred are selected. As the largest multi-arts festival in North America, it’s a big deal. They search for new, innovative theater and draw an estimated 70,000 people to the productions.
They submitted the application, press materials and script, paid the application fee and, as Kerri said, “Didn’t really give it much weight, at first.” The weeks passed and they decided it was time to forget about it and move on to the next project. That’s when the email arrived, “Dear Participant, That’s right, participant,” and the celebration erupted, soon followed by the realization that this was going to be difficult.
The production has eight people and five crew members. Thirteen people would need to travel to New York City, stay for a week for the five performances and travel back. They would have to eat, have a place to sleep and they would have to deal with whatever sets they chose to bring to the city. The lighting person has moved to Houston and will have to fly to New York. It will be complicated and expensive.
That’s why they’ve started a Kickstarter campaign. The goal is to raise $10,000, which won’t cover all the expense, but will cover much of it. There are eleven days left. If you like independent theater, feel that topics such as this one deserve a forum or like to support creative enterprises headed by talented women, this is something to consider. And there will be a party.
Set for July 14th at Flow, the day before the end of the Kickstarter campaign, the party starts at 8:00 PM. A $10 donation gains you free admission or you may pay $10 at the door – which will go toward trip expenses. Entertainment will include musical duo Blond Bones and Improv from Full Disclosure , Knoxville’s first long-form improv group, headed by Kerri Koczen. Brad will have happy hour specials all night on coffee and beer adn Farm to Griddle will be supplying their wonderful crepes. Waldorf Photography will be represented by Lindsay Noll, who will be operating a photo booth.
Meanwhile, the Fringe Festival further selected “Princess Cut” to be among a smaller group of plays they feel are important to get before younger audiences. As a result of this selection, free tickets will be given to high school students for one of the performances. The festival will also provide a panel discussion on the issue of sex trafficking after one of the performances.
They’ve been given a great venue (Venue 13 in festival terms) for their productions, at the Lynn Redgrave Theater, located at 45 Bleecker Street. Bleecker Street is one of the more historic streets in the city having provided the residence for James Agee and the clubs that launched artists from Bob Dylan to Jimi Hendrix.
I asked the two what they’ve noticed as the number of productions have accumulated and where they hope the festival might lead. They’ve been struck by the different reactions and questions they’ve gotten in different cities. Various audiences simply focus on different portions of the issue. As for their hopes, they’d love to have someone see the play in New York who might have the interest and wherewithal to take the production on a national tour.