Land of Smiles is a fictional, full -length musical about the trafficking of women in Thailand, as seen through the eyes of sex workers, grassroots activists, NGO employees and other members of the anti-trafficking movement. Based on field research including over 50 interviews, Land of Smiles presents a dramatic look at how the story about trafficking is told, and shows that finding a solution to this problem is even more complicated than it seems.
The story focuses on the aftermath of a brothel raid in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand. Lipoh, a young Kachin (ethnic minority) migrant from Burma, seems to be underage, making her an automatic “trafficking victim” in the eyes of the law. Emma Gable, an NGO case worker from Cedar Falls, Indiana is sent to prepare Lipoh to be a witness in a trial to prosecute her trafficker. Emma must convince Lipoh to be the person everyone sees: a trafficking victim. But Lipoh is unwilling to cooperate. She insists that she is eighteen, and was working in the brothel willingly. Not only that—she wants to go back.
What transpires is a journey into Thailand’s anti-trafficking movement—a world burdened with politics, morality and the rhetoric of human rights. Through hearing Lipoh’s story, Emma discovers that grave atrocities are being committed against the Kachin people of Burma. But these atrocities are overshadowed by a narrative about trafficking that serves the needs of the anti-trafficking movement, rather than the women it is trying to help.
Land of Smiles features a book, music, and lyrics by Erin Kamler, winner of the Ovation Award, Steven Sondheim’s Young Playwright’s Festival Award, Frederick Loewe Award, Hopwood Award and Backstage Garland Award (Divorce! The Musical; Runway 69), and is produced by Ovation award-nominated producers Rick Culbertson (Divorce! The Musical) and Gregory Franklin.