Activity: Talk or presentation types › Oral presentation
This talk contributes a theatre andperformance perspective to the discussion of narratives of ageing andcare. It explores the performance ofRuff by Split Britches performer and stroke survivor Peggy Shaw and theprofessional relationship she has with director, writer, dramaturg and fellowperformer Lois Weaver.
After she suffered a stroke in 2011Peggy Shaw – performance artist and founder member of lesbian theatre groupSplit Britches – created Ruff, with herlong-time collaborator Lois Weaver. This show ‘visually and verbally translatesShaw’s internal experience of illness and aging into an external assemblage ofher multifaceted, creatively capable, aging brain’ (Weaver). Ruff explores Shaw’s new identity position as a person livingwith disability. The show’s publicity flyer claims that Shaw does this bybringing to life the ‘host of Lounge singers, movie stars, rock and roll bandsand eccentric family members living inside her’ (Ruff flyer, 2014). Inthe BBC Radio Four interview Shaw explained: “After my stroke I was able todefine that I wasn’t an original person, that I had a combination of a lot ofpeople 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, OtisRedding” (ibid.). These figuressupply her supporting cast. Theseallies—including an all female backing band who are projected onto the greenscreen behind her—support her in a performance that is openly “compromised” bythe impairment of her stroke. Shaw’s sexy performance style now accommodatesthe limitations of her post-stroke body, and both elicits and draws upon offersof care from the imaginary characters, from the audience and from Weaver, her director,who sits in the audience offering subtle encouragement, technical informationand moral support. Shaw’s reliance on autocue and her occasional interruptionsof the show to ask her director, Weaver about the next sequence or move, makeexplicit the fragility which the stroke has produced and incorporate this intothe performance aesthetic. Shaw’s continued presence on stage and within theperformance industry is facilitated by the audience members and by Shaw’slong-time collaborator Weaver; together they bring into appearance what JamesThompson calls ‘an aesthetics of care’. Lois Weaver has, in recentyears, developed a practice, which deploys the will to care as a centralforce in her participative performance making. This paper willdiscuss how Ruff fits into this wider body of recent theatre practicedemonstrating how Weaver, even in her later years, continues to develop newperformance forms.
5 Sep 2019
Ageing, Illness, Care in Literary and Cultural Narratives