Nanaimo students perform true-to-life story off streets

Times Colonist (Victoria)
Adrian Chamberlain

Thursday May 13, 2004

A Nanaimo high-school play -- inspired partly by the Pickton pig-farm murder case -- accurately portrays the brutal lives of prostitutes, says a former sex trade worker.

Special to Times Colonist

Life among the sex-trade workers is the subject of a play written and performed by students at Nanaimo's Dover Bay high school. Here Whitney Rodgers tries to haul Coleen Weaver upright. 

Brenda Omichinski, 43, was favourably impressed after seeing i have a name, a new drama created by students at Nanaimo's Dover Bay secondary school.

"It did seem real, a lot of the parts did," said Nanaimo's Omichinski, who for 28 years was a prostitute and drug addict in Vancouver and Nanaimo. "I thought it was amazing. I cried from the beginning to the end."

She is among a handful of former sex trade workers interviewed for the school project, which was researched, written and acted by Dover Bay students. i have a name, slated for a Friday night public performance at Esquimalt secondary school, takes an unblinkered look at the underground lives of prostitutes -- even portraying real-life tragedies.

Performed by female students aged 15 to 18 from Nanaimo's middle-class Hammond Bay district, i have a name depicts sex trade workers as regular folk with ordinary goals and aspirations. At the same time, the 45-minute work doesn't flinch from the squalor of drug addiction or the plight of women whose remains were unearthed at the Pickton farm in Port Coquitlam.

i have a name concludes with a monologue taken from the journals of Sarah de Vries, whose DNA was founded on the farm following her 1998 disappearance from Vancouver's East Side.

"(The play) does address the disappearances, the beatings and the murders," said Hugh Anderson, a 51-year-old drama teacher who directed and helped create the play. "It examines the progress into the pit of drug use."

The students created i have a name after deciding to explore the theme of sexual exploitation. It was first performed in February at a Parksville drama festival. Since then, the play has been staged in Nanaimo to mostly positive reactions, despite disturbing subject matter and profane language, said Anderson. i have a name has been performed at Dover Bay school (outside school hours because of its language) and at Malaspina University-College.

Anderson was relieved when, following the first public show, former sex trade workers said i have a name has the ring of truth.

"We were a little worried someone was going to walk up and say, 'This is bullshit.' And they didn't."

Cast member Amber Bonner, 18, said she initially viewed the play's subject matter with distaste.

"You have the stereotype of a hooker with her hooker boots and her miniskirt. All that has changed for every one of us," she said.

"All of my friends (now) know they are not to say the word 'whore' around me, because I will go off."

Bonner plays a prostitute in i have a name. Her parents were supportive as "they know it's just a role." She said i have a name is a bold departure from Departure Bay school's usual theatrical fare. Recent productions include Footloose, about teens who love to dance, and Crazy for You, a George Gershwin revue.

The play portrays a horrific incident that happened to Omichinski when she worked the streets. The former sex trade worker -- now a volunteer at women's transition houses -- found herself taking care of a friend suffering the effects of drug withdrawal. Omichinski was poised to step into the car of a prospective client when her companion took her place, insisting she felt better.

"She took the car that actually stopped for me. They found her dead in a trunk of that car later on that night," said the native of Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. "I realize how close it had come. Because you risk death every time you walk into that, every time you go into a car."

i have a name depicts another real-life event -- the time Omichinski waited in vain for nine days to get a space at a crowded detox centre. She spent much of the time withdrawing on the floor of a friend's apartment.

Omichinski particularly likes the fact i have a name shows prostitutes as human beings.

"We do have feelings. It's not that we're trying to hurt anybody. We hurt ourselves more."

After the Esquimalt performance, i have a name will be performed May 27 at Vancouver's East Cultural Centre. There will be a question-and-answer period following Friday's show. Proceeds go to Victoria's Prostitute Empowerment Education and Resource Society (PEERS).


What: i have a name

Where: Esquimalt Secondary School (theatre),

847 Colville Rd.

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Tickets: By donation ($5 minimum)

Courtesy of

Times Colonist - Victoria



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Updated: August 21, 2016