Weaver’s work has consistently used performance to address political issues from unexpected angles. These performances avoid didactic lecturing and traditional narrative forms in favour of complex, welcoming and absolutely theatrical experiences. All of the projects collected in Performing the Issue demonstrate how performance can be a tool for addressing public issues through joyful, non-hierarchical and deeply engaged means.
From her groundbreaking work with Split Britches to current ongoing projects, Weaver’s work approaches issues which affect public bodies. Split Britches’ Miss America and Lost Lounge appropriate and refract the beauty pageant and the lounge act to break down American ideological posturing, anti-capitalist alternative culture and the politics of natural disasters. What Tammy Found Out and Faith and Dancing both mix politics with autobiography to take on queerness, femininity and class in a journey from Virginia to downtown New York to East London, by way of 1970s countercultural politics and the growing feminist and gay rights movements. Ruff looks at identity and mortality, alongside a community of performers, icons and iconoclasts. All of these performance pieces demonstrate how complex issues can be explored with warmth, generosity and conviction.
Miss America takes on beauty pageants, foreign policy and the politics of natural disaster. In this 2008-9 Split Britches show, Peggy Shaw dreams of winning the big prize, and translating her tall, 65-year old butch body into the refracted image of American (female) beauty. Lois Weaver, armed with a fur coat and a camera, acts as an outside eye: photographer, critic, judge. Set against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 American presidential elections, Miss America takes the political personally. In a mode Split Britches has refined over the years, a non-linear, sometimes surreal style is always balanced by a deeply physical and human sensibility. Underlying the investigation of the big issues are reflections of Shaw’s and Weaver’s thirty year life/work history.
Miss America debuted at LaMama Experimental Theatre Club in 2008, and its UK premiere was at Queen Mary University’s People’s Palace. An annotated script of Miss America is published in Theatre in Pieces: Politics, Poetics and Interdisciplinary Collaboration, edited by Anna Furse.
A performance that examines the phenomena of the ‘last holdout’- the people and the places people gather to face or fend off encroaching capitalism and urban redevelopment – and engages the audience in a discussion in the relation between memory and landscape. Lost Lounge follows a lounge act set in a city working hard to forget the people who made it, and a partnership where both know all each others’ jokes. It takes on nostalgia and the difficulty of holding onto history. It embraces haunting, and the importance, sometimes, of not letting go.
This performance was a Mondo Cane Commission for Dixon Place in New York, funded by New York State Council on the Arts and supported by an Artist Residency at the University of Richmond, funded by University of Richmond Tucker-Boatwright Fine Arts Lecture Fund, The Cultural Affairs Committee and the Modlin Center for the Arts in Richmond, Virginia. Further support provided by an Artist residency at the Hemispheric Institute, New York University, NY.
Faith and Dancing
Faith and Dancing is a solo performance by Lois Weaver. Weaver plays Faith, ‘an adult in a child’s imagination’, in a paper dress and ruby slippers. Caught in a hurricane, Faith is lost and can’t find her way back home to Virginia – the name of her home state and her mother. All of the accidental loves of Faith’s life – dancing and poetry and the logic of sex – come into play as she guides the audience through her domestic landscape which the storm has upended. Faith and Dancing is a piece about growing up, and the origins of desire. It is a gently subversive work that insists in the political value of looking at the familiar world with a reversed lens.
In Faith and Dancing, Weaver touches on themes that will continue to be developed in later works. In particular, laundry as a stand-in for a host of domestic passions is introduced in Faith and Dancing. Faith’s mother, Virginia, tells her the ‘people can see how you manage your private affairs in the way you hang out your laundry’. This notion of the public display of private lives is found throughout Public Address Systems.
Faith and Dancing was co-commissioned by Gay Sweatshop and It’s Queer Up North, and premiered in Manchester in 1996.
In January 2011, Peggy Shaw had a stroke. In Ruff, she returned to the stage with a solo piece that recognises how she has never really performed solo at all.
Written by Shaw and Lois Weaver, Ruff looks at how Shaw’s community of performers, icons and eccentric family members have lived inside her throughout her career, and how this cast of characters has changed over the years. While the stroke created holes where memories used to be, new companions are arriving to fill in the blanks. The piece uses language riffs, dance numbers and tough talking to look at ageing, the body and mortality. Shaw’s life-long work of questioning identity and creating uncompromising alternatives is heightened in this context.
Ruff premiered in New York at PS122 in 2013. It was Made possible in part by commissioning support from PS122, the Ethyl Eichelberger Award, and Out North Contemporary Art House (Anchorage, AK) outnorth.org, with funding generously provided by the Gesso Foundation, and was developed in part with support from The MAP Fund, a program of Creative Capital supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and residencies at Dixon Place and La MaMa.
What Tammy Found Out
What Tammy Found Out is a front line report from the back porch, the schoolyard and the dinner table. Lois Weaver performs as Tammy Why Not, famous country-and-western singer turned lesbian performance artist. With courage and curiosity, Tammy presents findings from 62 years of research. Tammy is armed with dozens of pink frosted cupcakes, and a story for each year of Weaver’s life. The personal meets the political as Weaver’s own journey into feminism, activist politics and queer identity is mapped onto the spaces in rural Virginia, downtown New York and East London where Weaver has built her life and loves. Counting up through the years, Tammy launches cupcakes into the audience, and in the mess of frosting an anarchistic jubilance of community is found.
What Tammy Found Out was presented as Weaver’s Professorial Inaugural Lecture at Queen Mary, University of London in March 2012.