Many artists fiercely resist the notion of focus grouping their work. The idea persists of a lone artist channeling their unencumbered vision, regardless of what anyone else thinks.
Stacy Jewell Lewis didn’t see it that way – she has long ago learned the power of harnessing ideas from a community. Her one woman play, 7 Layers Captive, a searing account of her experiences as the survivor of domestic sex trafficking, had already been gripping audiences in a variety of venues. Nonetheless, she decided to get feedback through focus groups and post-performance surveys – tools more common to management consultants than actors.
“I was already telling my story and participating in advocacy,” she says. “But it was important to make sure that audiences weren’t just looking at it as my story, but as a work of art.” Audience input allowed Stacy, a DC native, to determine how the show was being perceived and how to broaden the concept of bringing the tale of her harrowing journey and escape to the stage. “I had a tough skin before I started the process, fortunately,” she adds. She credits the process with helping her to better pace the roller-coaster rate of the story and provide the audience with more of an opportunity to connect with the human side of the story.
A tough skin is putting it mildly. Abducted at age nineteen at gunpoint and held hostage for nearly two years of unyielding abuse, Stacy has emerged as a dynamic motivational speaker on human trafficking and slavery. 7 Layers Captive places Stacy’s story in the historical context of countless other victims over the centuries. Incorporating innovative music and visuals, the show has been performed in a range of locations, including more than a few basement venues, as well as the Fridge DC art gallery and a performance space on Barracks Row. On October 10th, she will be bringing her craft to one of the most august stages in town – the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
7 LAYERS CAPTIVE
The Kennedy Center
2700 F Street, NW
Details and Tickets
Bringing an intimate show like 7 Layers Captive to Foggy Bottom creates its own challenge. “We had to make a few changes to maintain the intimacy I had in smaller venues,” she said, noting she has added several visual elements to support her dialogue.
“I have an audience of advocates and survivors who will be there to see that this is possible and that they can follow their dreams,” she said. “But I want to show that a topic like this doesn’t need to be a gruesome, sad experience. You can be educated and entertained and enjoy this work of art. Audiences are always shocked that they want to come back – that it doesn’t just horrify them. That was a vision of success to me. The story is intended as a triumph over one’s circumstances through passion and love.”