Why Can’t Trauma Be Funny?

Why Can’t Trauma Be Funny?
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by Sandy Skelaney

I burped and farted this morning. I was alone in the house so I let it rip without a care in the world. Had I been - out there - I may (or may not) have been more LADYLIKE about the ordeal, but hey, whatevs, I’m a Power Bitch.

Being “ladylike” has its advantages and disadvantages, of course, and this dynamic troupe of everyday women-cum-comedic improv actors called Power Bitches proved it by taking to the stage last Thursday night at Villain Theater to teach us a thing or two about reclaiming the power to decide when, where, how and why they will expose their truths about being a woman.

The Power Bitches
The Power Bitches
Clare Coco Photography

The brainchild of Susie Kreitman Taylor, Power Bitches morphed from a workshop on the actors' approach to getting out of character and tapping into core creative/sensual powers to a full-on theatrical experience that uses the art of storytelling and comedic improv acting to expose each of the participants' most intense recollections and then transform them with support of comedic improvised sketches performed by the other members of the group.

(Think: An inspired Vagina Monologues audience hijacks the stage to give their own monologues and a bunch of women wrap around and help them heal and claim their power as women. Power Bitches unite!)

Is it acting? Is it therapy? Is it community building? Yes. Yes and more YES.

"Let me down, I tried to say, but they couldn't hear me because I had a gag in my mouth."
"Let me down, I tried to say, but they couldn't hear me because I had a gag in my mouth."

Susie a.k.a. “Bettie” (of “Bettie & Bunny” fame) kicked off the main act recounting the day she met Mia, the opening performer. Mia was healing from a violent assault she sustained when a “date" went bad and her customer refused to pay or wear a condom and instead pulled out a knife and used it on her. Susie recalled comparing her own seemingly inadequate traumatic experiences to Mia’s but was impacted, however, when Mia proclaimed, “It’s not a competition.” In that moment, the vision for a space where women are sharing and relating to each other’s experiences through soulful connection and creativity, not competition, was born.

Power Bitches did not disappoint. Each woman’s monologue was unique and poignant. Within stories of homelessness, prostitution, violence and assault, lesbian sex misadventures, farting, learning to drive, deciding to procreate, facing a disgruntled inner child and more, important themes developed; truth, vulnerability, anger, fear and feelings of disempowerment and struggling with gender roles. But most importantly, these were stories of healing and redemption that resonated with the audience while making them bellow with laughter at the same time.

Some of the Power Bitches at Villain Theater
Some of the Power Bitches at Villain Theater
Selfie Stick

Laughter, after all, is a healing art.

In the weeks leading up to the event, I admit I felt anxious about the idea of tackling issues as traumatic as sex trafficking with humor. I belong to a national network of human trafficking experts and survivor advocates and I am all too aware of just how not funny trafficking is when it literally destroys peoples’ lives. In my intensive work with hundreds of young women who have experienced sex trafficking and exploitation, however, there have been conversations where it seemed humor was healing for them, where it helped us to connect, and more importantly where it helped them move from victim to empowered survivor.

Especially funny have been stories they have told about how "pimps be smart dumb”, referring to their ability to be smart enough to manipulate and control girls but at the same time dumb enough to be caught by police for overdue parking tickets; smart enough to run a thriving six-figure “business" but too dumb to not lose all the money; smart enough to use technology to facilitate exploitation but dumb enough to misspell words on tattoos. You get the idea. So-called “Johns” get the same treatment; maybe even worse. They can be particularly pathetic when they aren’t being outright cruel, especially the ridiculously intoxicated ones. Laughing at them makes them no less dangerous, but it does seem to help some survivors feel more in control.

Laughter helps people heal. Inside the pain of trauma, there is space to laugh, as I’ve been witness to, and there is a sweetness in that. There is a shaking up of the body that happens physically and energetically with a good belly laugh. If you have spent years creating a protective shell to hide your vulnerability, laughter may turn that shell into malleable chain-mail or shed it altogether so the healing work can begin. Studies confirm that laughter combats fear, comforts, relaxes, reduces pain, boosts the immune system, reduces stress, spreads happiness, cultivates optimism and helps with communication. All of these elements are vital to working through trauma and to helping transform the complex relationship we have with our womanhood - both painful and beautiful - into a new character; in touch with our truth and alive with our community and audience.

Power Bitches achieved all of this on stage, and took time to connect with the audience as well. When asked for feedback at the end, one audience member said, “I did not go through prostitution or homelessness or some of those other experiences,

The Original Power Bitches
The Original Power Bitches

but I saw myself in every one of those stories. Thank you."

Mia lifted her shirt carefully to expose her round motherly belly and it’s new adornment, a thick red scar running from her sternum to her belly button, a forever reminder of the night she survived. “This is what male entitlement looks like,” she stated matter-of-factly, “...and Burger King.” And with this she opened the door for her sisters to do their thing. [Driving a pretend car and speaking aggressively with a deep gravely dude voice] “Yeah, uh, give me a triple whopper deluxe. Hold the mayo, but lots of ketchup. No, no pickles. Yeah, I want LOTS of meat. It’s all about the meat, yeah. I want it my way. You do it my way, right? I have to have it MY. WAY."


Sandy Skelaney
Sandy Skelaney
Clare Coco

Sandy Skelaney is a changemaker, social entrepreneur and anti-trafficking leader who spearheaded Florida's response to domestic minor sex trafficking with the creation of Project GOLD at Kristi House. She is currently a Social Venture Consultant, Chief Mastermind at Ignition Fund, and an Adjunct Professor at Florida International University teaching Sex Trafficking. Sandys personal goal is to live up to her Junior League bestowed title of Woman Who Makes a Difference in Miami and be the kind of person who cleans up the beach, uses turn signals and stands up against injustice and cruelty every day, wherever it may appear.

Power Bitches received such overwhelmingly positive feedback on its pilot run, that it will be turned it into a regular thing. To become a Power Bitch and get more information about upcoming workshops and performances, contact Susie Kreitman Taylor.

Proceeds from the performance were donated to Ignition Fund, an accelerator program in Miami supporting technology-based human rights startups and anti-trafficking efforts. For more info or to donate to Ignition Fund, visit the website at www.ignitionfund.org.

To report suspected cases of human trafficking or find out about resources call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center & Hotline 1-888-3737-888.

A special acknowledgment to Villain Theater for their help in the production of Power Bitches and to Clare Coco for the photography. Support your local artists!

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