Back in summer of 2014, I discovered an extraordinary play, playwright, and performer—7 Layers Captive, written and performed by Stacy Jewell Lewis based on her own true story of being abducted into sex trafficking. As I wrote in my review: “Breathtakingly gripping and narratively harrowing, 7 Layers Captive is a tour de force of truth-telling.” Now in fall 2015 I still remember it vividly as “an unforgettable eye-opener.”
Metro DC audiences will have a rare chance to see 7 Layers Captive when Lewis performs it October 10th at 7 PM for one night only in The Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater. In eager anticipation of that performance—for which tickets are still available—I asked Lewis if she would answer a few questions for DCMetroTheaterArts.
John: It has been more than a year since I saw 7 Layers Captive in the DC Black Theater Festival and was knocked out by it. What has happened with the piece since?
Stacy: Well John, the question should be, “What hasn’t happened to the piece since then?” It’s been a roller coaster ride since your astonishing review! The inquiries were nonstop as people kept asking, Did you know the theater critic? Are you sure he wasn’t a personal friend? People could not believe that a newcomer such as myself would get such rave reviews, let alone a sex trafficking survivor without theater training.
The anti-sex trafficking community had always been receptive to my story, but to have the theater community accept 7 Layers Captive as a worthy work of art was both an honor and a surprise to many. Since the festival, a few universities began to request 7 Layers Captive, and we have performed at both Loyola University Chicago and Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville. In preparation for the universities’ social-justice- and history-focused audience, I began to do heavier historical research to somewhat beef up my Act 2. I thought the students would get a kick out of my additional factual comparisons that they were currently studying. And I must say, that research has had a powerful impact on my 19th-Century Madam monologue—the one you thoroughly enjoyed, if I’m not mistaken. Don’t worry, John, it only got better, I promise!
What response has the piece been getting?
Along with the normal shock, intrigue, and utter disillusionment over the reality of my subject matter, an overwhelming amount of desire to see it again and bring others has emerged! That of course is a playwright’s dream right? Someone saying: I’ll be back tomorrow to bring my daughter, mother, and friends! I can’t ask for a better response! I’ve had audience members say, “I feel like I’ve known you all my life” or “So glad this play wasn’t depressing.” They’re often astonished that I laugh and smile while retelling my story, and they’re even more surprised to laugh and smile with me! I think to me my greatest responses are when audiences go “Now I get it” and then follow up with “What can I do?” And to be honest…I also love hearing “That was an amazing performance, Stacy, well done.”
Why did you want to bring 7 Layers Captive to The Kennedy Center?
This question is very full, John. I’ve always wanted to perform at The Kennedy Center. When I was young I used to do several small competitions around the DC area. There was a high school theater talent show every year that I would enter called Futurefest. And each year I entered the competition and would somehow always come in second place. As a little teenage aspiring star, second place wasn’t good enough. So I would complain and cry to my dad about how unfair life was and that the judges only liked Duke Ellington Students (that’s the performing arts school in DC). One day, utterly tired of my complaining, he turned to me and said, “Look, stop whining. It’s not like you were performing at The Kennedy Center or something. Now that’s a stage.” I hated that comment, but it etched something deep in my heart that day. The Kennedy Center was the stage I wanted to perform on.
Unfortunately my dreams were cut short when I was kidnapped and forced into sex trafficking. So to now walk into The Kennedy Center today, producing and performing my own production, is a dream come true.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the performance?
I want audiences, especially youth and artists, to see the powerful potential in every story. Whether it’s tragedy or triumph, what we’ve been through in life can be turned into a work of art! It can be shared, honored, respected. Our stories can educate, inspire, and entertain.
I want audience members to buckle up and join me in an experience that will change their lives, their perspectives of the world, and ultimately offer hope!
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission.
Stacy Jewell Lewis presents 7 Layers Captive at The Kennedy Center:
Play chronicles journey from sex slavery to Kennedy Center (WUSA-TV). Watch it here.
John Stoltenberg reviews 7 Layers Captive on DCMetroTheaterArts.