“Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw, an Aesthetics of Care”

Moore, B. (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


This talk contributes a theatre and performance perspective to the discussion of narratives of ageing and care.  It explores the performance of Ruff by Split Britches performer and stroke survivor Peggy Shaw and the professional relationship she has with director, writer, dramaturg and fellow performer Lois Weaver. 

After she suffered a stroke in 2011 Peggy Shaw – performance artist and founder member of lesbian theatre group Split Britches – created Ruff, with her long-time collaborator Lois Weaver. This show ‘visually and verbally translates Shaw’s internal experience of illness and aging into an external assemblage of her multifaceted, creatively capable, aging brain’ (Weaver). Ruff explores Shaw’s new identity position as a person living with disability. The show’s publicity flyer claims that Shaw does this by bringing to life the ‘host of Lounge singers, movie stars, rock and roll bands and eccentric family members living inside her’ (Ruff flyer, 2014). In the BBC Radio Four interview Shaw explained: “After my stroke I was able to define that I wasn’t an original person, that I had a combination of a lot of people inside of me that I wanted to talk about and thank for all their help. Like Leonard Cohen, and Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor, Malcolm X, Otis Redding” (ibid.). These figures supply her supporting cast. These allies—including an all female backing band who are projected onto the green screen behind her—support her in a performance that is openly “compromised” by the impairment of her stroke. Shaw’s sexy performance style now accommodates the limitations of her post-stroke body, and both elicits and draws upon offers of care from the imaginary characters, from the audience and from Weaver, her director, who sits in the audience offering subtle encouragement, technical information and moral support. Shaw’s reliance on autocue and her occasional interruptions of the show to ask her director, Weaver about the next sequence or move, make explicit the fragility which the stroke has produced and incorporate this into the performance aesthetic. Shaw’s continued presence on stage and within the performance industry is facilitated by the audience members and by Shaw’s long-time collaborator Weaver; together they bring into appearance what James Thompson calls ‘an aesthetics of care’.  Lois Weaver has, in recent years, developed a practice, which deploys the will to care as a central force in her participative performance making.  This paper will discuss how Ruff fits into this wider body of recent theatre practice demonstrating how Weaver, even in her later years, continues to develop new performance forms.  

Period5 Sep 2019
Degree of RecognitionInternational