With performances that are equal parts therapeutic and empowering, Guatemalan theater group Las Poderosas (Powerful Women) is sending a powerful message for gender equality and against gender-based violence from the stage. Since 2008, their work has expanded across social media and the region. For these women, theater is a means to heal, condemn, communicate, and raise awareness within a country where, according to information from UN Women, “two women a day are killed on average.
The group formed after participating in a theater experiment in Marco Canale’s documentary “Hoy puedo ser” (Today I can be). The experience lead these women to devote themselves fully to exploring the power of testimony and the world of emotions. Their main focus is writing and performing plays that reveal the various forms of violence, from the most evident to the most subtle, that go undetected in everyday life, only to be noticed when collectively observed.
The blog Heroínas (Heroines), recounts Las Poderosas’ story:
El gusanito del teatro invadió las entrañas de estas siete mujeres y sus hijos, que decidieron continuar con el montaje escénico y hacer presentaciones a lo largo y ancho de Guatemala. […] De las vueltas del destino y de un sueño que tuvo Lesbia Téllez [una de las participantes] en el cual, estas supervivientes se veían sobre el escenario vestidas de luchadoras, nace “Las Poderosas”. Una compañía de teatro sin parangón que tiene como propósito, sanar a aquellas personas que han sido objeto de la violencia mediante la catarsis y el espacio creativo que ofrece el teatro. […] Cuando se les pregunta qué significa para ellas el teatro, esta “Liga de la Justicia” de siete heroínas […] no dudan en asegurar que ha sido su salvación y el motor de cambio de sus vidas.
These seven women and their children were bitten by the theater bug, so they decided to continue with the production and perform across the length and breadth of Guatemala. […] Through a twist of fate and a dream held by one of the participants, Lesbia Téllez, Las Poderosas was born; the survivors appeared on the stage dressed as luchadoras [wrestlers]. This unparalleled theater company's mission is to heal those who have been subjected to violence through catharsis and the creative space that the stage offers. […] When asked what the theater means to them, this seven-woman “Justice League” […] doesn’t hesitate to assure that it has been their salvation and a driving force for change in their lives.
The group’s “trailer” gives a better idea of their style and approach. The video shows members of Las Poderosas sharing their own experiences:
Mi marido me mandó matar. Me dispararon al corazón. Perdí mi brazo, pero hice justicia.
My husband ordered me killed. I was shot in the heart. I lost my arm; but I got justice.
Las Poderosas also participate in community work with women from different regions, both inside and outside of Guatemala. They encourage women to share their experiences in order to draw attention to the problem of violence and provide solutions for it. An example of their efforts is their involvement in International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women with “close to 60 women from 8 municipalities within the Sololá Department of Guatemala; some of them being leaders and violence survivors.”
Their most recent performance, “Naciendo” (Emerging), delves into the many facets of violence, including its presence in Guatemala’s mixed heritage and the country's painful civil war, which left more than 250,000 dead. More profoundly, however, this new production initiates conversations about the body, sex, and most importantly, soul-searching:
[“Naciendo”] nace de una investigación sobre nuestra sexualidad, nuestro origen y la guerra. Hablamos con nuestras madres, con nuestras hijas, con nuestras nietas y con mujeres sobrevivientes del conflicto armado, buscando las huellas de nuestra historia, de nuestro país, la historia de nuestros cuerpos.¿Qué es lo que vivimos? ¿Qué estamos por vivir?
Hacer esta obra, recordar, tratar de entender las sombras y la luz, nombrar, cantar o hablar sobre cómo hacemos el amor, fue una forma de mirar a los ojos ese camino tan ancho que cada una de nosotras guarda adentro.
Mirarlo como si fuera un río.
Es el lugar desde el que estamos naciendo.
[“Naciendo”] emerges from an investigation of our sexuality, our origins, and the war. We speak to our mothers, daughters, granddaughters, and women who have survived armed conflict, searching for traces of our history, country, and bodies. What is it that we are living? What are we about to live?
Doing this production, remembering, trying to understand the darkness and the light, naming, singing, or speaking about how we make love was a way of gazing into the eyes of that ever-so-wide path that each one of us keeps inside.
Gaze at it as if it were a river.
It is the place from where we are emerging.