Cold Piece of Werk tells the story of Midnight, a seventeen-year-old girl embroiled in the sex-work industry in East Oakland. Once in the game, she realizes she's in way over her head. Living the street life surrounded by violence and drugs, Midnight struggles with self-perception, what she left behind, and how to escape the life she has now without endangering herself or those she loves.
The CPOW cast is filled with Bay Area actors, some of whom are first-time stage actors. "We have some who nailed it in the audition, and this is their first time," said playwright Tracie Collins. "They have a love for the industry and the art."
Collins said she hopes that this production helps create awareness of the ongoing epidemic of human trafficking — an epidemic that's happening right here in Oakland as well as throughout the country. "It's a national issue," she said.
Majesty-Pearl Scott, who plays Midnight, has worked in all but one of Collins' productions. "We have a great chemistry and working relationship together," said Collins.
I sat in on a recent rehearsal — the show runs March 14–15 at the Kaiser Center Lakeside Theatre (300 Lakeside Drive, Oakland). While I watched, Collins sat stoically silent, watching the actors run lines. Collins provoked emotion out of the actors while providing support and encouragement through scenes. She asked the actors to critique themselves first, then followed up with her own comments. "Trust yourself," Collins said to Mahnaz Salvador who plays Diamond, another sex worker, in the play.
The idea for the production came to Collins in the spring of 2014. "Seeing these young girls in Oakland on the streets — no matter day or night, no matter the [weather] — wearing barely nothing," she said. "I wanted to help bring awareness to this issue."
Born and raised in the Bay Area, Collins began her theater career as an actor. Some of her most notable roles have included Lorelle in Dreamgirls and Pam in Misery Loves Company, both at Black Repertory Group Theater in Berkeley.
Collins' directorial debut came in 2013 with her self-produced play, The V Monologues: A Black Woman's Interpretation, which premiered at the Malonga Casquelourd Theater in Oakland. The production was inspired by Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues. Collins reworked the piece to focus on African-American women and their struggles against racial stigma and misogyny. Following that production, Collins directed Knocking at Love's Door in April of 2014 and Girlfriend Chronicles in June of 2014, both performed at the Kaiser Center Lakeside Theatre.
Through these productions Collins has gained a reputation as a champion of women. "Being an African-American woman, I want to tell the story of relevance as a woman of color. However, I want my work to speak for all women," said Collins. "We are the givers of life, so if I can help teach or guide another young girl, then that helps with whoever's life she touches."
Cold Piece of Werk shows on Saturday, March 14 and Sunday, March 15, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.. $25–$35. Bit.ly/1J4lIIF