We have suffered enough: the cost of performing trauma for women of color

Posted September 16, 2019


A powerful essay in HowlRound from Core Company Actor Melisa Pereyra 

Since the beginning of my career in the American regional theatre, I have been embodying roles from what the West considers “classical” plays. Beloved female characters have, through my body, been verbally, mentally, and sexually abused; mutilated, murdered, and exiled. I can count on one hand the times my characters weren’t harmed.

I have suffered enough.

I’m an Argentinian immigrant from Villa Caraza, Buenos Aires. I watched my father look for work in a town where there was none to be found until the day he died. I watched my mother clean houses for a living while she battled cancer. By the time I was eleven, I was an orphan. Eventually, not knowing how to speak English, my older brother brought me to the United States, where I lived with a foster family in Idaho.

The same body that lived through all that later began a career in the American regional theatre. Today, when asked why I am a storyteller, I often say it is because it gives my sorrows and my joys a greater purpose. But throughout the years I have noticed that, more often than not, I am sharing my sorrows and not enough of my joys.

Trauma in Performance
Men are quick to be praised for their work in theatre, called geniuses when they stage a scene I could have done with my eyes closed, told they were so moving when all they had to do was stand there and wield their power over everyone else. We, women of color, are praised when we suffer. White spectators from all over the country told me they loved me as Lavinia, and Claire in The Maids, and Lady Macbeth—particularly in the “mad scene,” they were quick to say. What is that about? Why do women of color gain space in someone’s consciousness only when we show them the depth of our suffering?

When I worked on The Maids a few years ago, a play by the French writer Jean Genet, the goal of the production was to show what life might be like for immigrants in the United States. To that aim, the maids were cast as Latinx and a white person was cast as Madame. Performing in that play was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

Read the full story here