- Memory Divided
In Ruff, Peggy Shaw ruminates on a life interrupted following a stroke in 2011, leaving her unable to fully memorize new material. The piece was written in collaboration with longtime Split Britches artistic partner Lois Weaver, who also directed its premiere at PS 122's Coil Festival in January 2013, and subsequent international tours. Ruff is a free-wheeling monologue at once both humorous and poetic as Shaw candidly ponders the before-and-after-effects of the stroke and her own artistic legacy after decades onstage. The work lends itself to Shaw's more improvisational style, playfully incorporating the lapses of memory that inevitably occur during performance, making each performance distinct. Its very composition intends a kind of rhythmic dissonance, reflected in the episodic structure of the text. The title refers to a rudimentary drum phrase called the three-stroke ruff. Punctuating the spoken text are vaudevillian sketches, video clips, and songs by the likes of Leonard Cohen, Jacques Brel, and others. Shaw is assisted by a band of past collaborators who are projected on the back wall of the theatre. Three television monitors envelope her body center stage, displaying the performance text for the audience—a text she inevitably deviates from and alters as the performance progresses. Ruff unsentimentally presents Shaw's views as a queer elder, educating her audiences through her own personal embodied experience. Mnemonic devices are incorporated into the overall mise en scène, aiding both Shaw's memory and that of her audience, imbuing loss with performative potential that ultimately offers a radical portrait of the aging artist. [End Page 107]
BENJAMIN GILLESPIE is assistant editor of PAJ and a PhD candidate at The Graduate Center, CUNY. His dissertation explores aging and late style in New York's downtown experimental performance scene.