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Split Britches: Last Gasp

Two women stand next to each other. One is wearing a suit blowing air into their mouth with their lips pursed. She is wearing a black suit and tie. The other lady is wearing a black top and has her mouth wide open and her short bob brown hair is blowing in a gust of wind.

Welcome to the Barbican and this performance of Last Gasp: A Recalibration. We’re delighted to welcome back Split Britches to The Pit. This new production is a wry look at the last turbulent couple of years, from personal reflections to wider perspectives. Exposing us to ideas from an esoteric line-up of artistic influences, Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver wittily show us how to recalibrate when confronted with the unexpected and uncontrollable. We hope you enjoy the show.

Toni Racklin, Head of Theatre and Dance, Barbican

This performance has been a long time coming, and we almost can’t believe we are sharing it with you now. We started out in early 2020 creating Last Gasp, a live performance questioning demise: the demise of ageing bodies, civil conversation and a sustainable planet. The pandemic arrived and knocked the breath out of all of us, as did a period of civil unrest that marched under the banner of ‘I can’t breathe.’ The ironies were not lost as we locked down, stayed in and continued our investigations, resulting in a digital performance, Last Gasp WFH. Now, almost two years later, Last Gasp: A Recalibration is our way of facing head-on the new question of what it means to be together in a theatre and what it means to perform in the aftermath of a foundation-shattering crisis – to not only face demise but also consider strategies for moving on.

Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw, co-founders of Split Britches

The film Last Gasp WFH was created during the first four months of the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown. It was a collaboration of creative survival between five friends (Lois Weaver, Peggy Shaw, Nao Nagai, Vivian Stoll, and Morgan Thorson), two countries, and three time zones. It will be available to ticket holders of Last Gasp: A Recalibration until 23 November 2021

Last Gasp: A Recalibration was developed by the collaborative team, adapting Last Gasp WFH to the stage and for the current moment with the addition of costumes by Susan Young and design consultation from Matt Delbridge. 

‘Living in the last gasp’

an extract from an interview conducted by Nina Berman, for Fractured Atlas.

For over 40 years, Split Britches has been creating art that is both lesbian and feminist. Split Britches projects span theater, solo performance, live art, workshops, digital media, models for public conversation, and written work. Founded by Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw, Split Britches ‘is about a community of outsiders, queers, eccentrics – feminist because it encourages the imaginative potential in everyone, and lesbian because it takes the presence of a lesbian on stage as a given.'

In addition to her work as an artist, activist, and facilitator, Lois Weaver is a professor of Contemporary Performance at Queen Mary University in London. Peggy Shaw is a performer, writer, and teacher. They have been awarded Guggenheim Fellowships as well as grants and fellowships from other institutions like the Doris Duke Foundation, NYFA, and the Wellcome Trust. 

Their work is rooted in the experimental, downtown New York theater scene and a strong DIY ethos.

Their most recent work, Last Gasp WFH, was created in isolation and presented until 31 May by La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. Lois, Peggy, and their collaborators used spoken word, movement, and a virtual-first approach to creation to engage questions of breath, home, and a world that appeared to be crumbling around them. The New York Times referred to it as ‘not just one of the 40-year-old company’s best pieces, but among the most evocative art to emerge from the Covid era.’

Tell us about your work or project. What inspired it and how do you hope it will impact people?

In March 2020 we were in London preparing for a performance that was going to be live and suddenly the world locked down and we were stopped in our tracks! Through a series of lucky happenings, we found ourselves sheltering in place in a spectacular abandoned house, and we decided to continue working on the piece just in case the world did open up. And as we continued working over the course of several months, we realized we weren’t making a live performance anymore – we were creating a digital performance that could be publicly shared during the pandemic. 

Suddenly the show we had been working on had an entirely new resonance – it was titled Last Gasp before we were living through a pandemic that was caused by a respiratory illness. We wanted to express some of the experience of living in that time, living in our last gasp of age being older artists, living in the last gasp of our planet struggling to breathe, living in the struggle for racial justice and social unrest that came about from George Floyd’s murder. Ideas about what it means to breathe became relevant and we want people to come together to meditate on that with us in the performance.

Describe the process you've taken to bring your project to life. What's been involved? 

We really decided to take the approach of using what we have – like in the way our friend Heather Acs talks about all of her friends coming together for a night dumping everything that they had in their pockets on a table and making something with it. So we started filming over Zoom – Lois and two of our collaborators Vivian Stoll and Nao Nagai were all teaching and really getting in the headspace of Zoom so their brains were already adapting to that digital space, and we began to think about what it meant to make a live performance digitally. We were also working internationally, working with Nao Nagai in London, Vivian Stoll in Brooklyn, and Morgan Thorson in Minneapolis. It was a truly invigorating process that spurred a new practice for us which is important as we age to give us increased accessibility in making and sharing performances, and also helping us reach a larger audience. 

What have been your biggest challenges with this project or with your work?

Really it’s people’s preconceptions about what it is we do. We bill ourselves as a feminist and lesbian theater company, and people immediately assume that they know what that is and know what the work is based on those identifiers. We actually don’t make work about being lesbians or being feminist, we explore the work through those lenses which means the work is often different than what a lot of people expect. Throughout our 40-year careers we’ve also been marginalized because of our sexuality, gender, class background, age, politics – and haven’t been given the same kinds of opportunities as others. In some ways this project has helped us transcend some of that, which might partially be because we’re not in person.

For you, what is the relationship between art and social change? How does your work fit into that relationship?

We use performance as a way to move through whatever personal challenges we are facing at the moment, whether its identity, ageing, or current circumstances like politics or social climate. The personal has always been political for us as working class white feminist aging lesbians.

In more recent years we have also wanted to literally involve audiences in the world of our work, like in Unexploded Ordnances (UXO), What Tammy Needs to Know About Getting Old and Having Sex, or in the Public Address Systems project.

Any upcoming events that people should know about? What's next for you that we should be keeping an eye out for?

Next on the horizon is a project we have been developing called Sheltered in Place. Sheltered in Place is a digital public engagement infrastructure housing community, conversation, and creative expressions. It explores what it means to stay home in the context of a global pandemic and what shelter and place might mean to us as we move out of this crisis and into the future. We don’t know exactly when this will launch, but keep an eye out in the next month or so!

This extract is used with the permission of

About Split Britches

Founded in New York in 1980 with Deb Margolin, Split Britches continues with the duo and solo work of Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw which spans satirical, gender-bending performance, methods for public engagement, videography, digital and print media, explorations of ageing and wellbeing, and iconic lesbian-feminist theatre. Split Britches’ collection of scripts, Split Britches Feminist Performance/Lesbian Practice, edited by Sue Ellen Case, won the 1997 Lambda Literary Award for Drama. In 2012, Split Britches was presented with the Edwin Booth Award by City University of New York in honour of the artists’ outstanding contribution to the New York City/American Theater and Performance Community, and in 2017 they were awarded the Innovative Theatre Foundation’s Artistic Achievement Award. Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw were named Senior Fellows by the Hemispheric Institute of Performance in 2014, an award given to scholars, artists and activists affiliated with the institute whose work illustrates the highest achievement in the field of performance and politics.

Over the past 40 years Split Britches’ interconnected repertoire of performance and engagement work has rapidly expanded and projects have increasingly fed into the development of one another. Last Gasp is the result of research undertaken during the 2018-2019 Split Britches Call and Response Tour throughout the US and UK, a tour of the performances Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) and Retro(per)spective which housed sustained conversation in connected engagement activities and platforms.

To get in touch about Last Gasp WFH please contact producer Laura Hunter Petree at [email protected]


Lois Weaver
Co-writer and performer

Lois Weaver is an artist, activist and Professor of Contemporary Performance Practice at Queen Mary, University of London. She was co-founder of Spiderwoman Theater, Split Britches, WOW Café Theater and Artistic Director of Gay Sweatshop in London. Lois Weaver is a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow and a Wellcome Trust Engaging Science Fellow for 2016-19. She was awarded the WOW Women in Creative Industries Award for Fighting the Good Fight in 2018. Her experiments in performance as a means of public engagement include the Long Table, the Porch Sitting, the Situation Room, the Care Café and her facilitating persona, Tammy WhyNot. Tammy collaborated with senior centres in NYC on What Tammy Needs To Know About Getting Old and Having Sex which premiered at La MaMa ETC, NYC in November 2014. Lois Weaver’s performance practice and history have been documented and illustrated in The Only Way Home Is Through The Show: Performance Works of Lois Weaver, eds. Lois Weaver and Jen Harvie, published in 2015 by Intellect and the Live Art Development Agency.
Peggy Shaw
Co-writer and performer

Peggy Shaw is a performer, writer, producer and teacher of writing and performance. She co-founded Split Britches and WOW Café Theatre in NYC. She is a veteran of Hot Peaches and Spiderwoman. She is a 2019 Guggenheim Fellow, a 2014 recipient of the Doris Duke Artist Award, and a 2016 recipient of the USA Artist Award. In 2017, Peggy Shaw was awarded an honorary doctorate from Queen Mary University of London for her contribution to theatre and the institution. She has received three NYFA Fellowships and three OBIE Awards. She was the recipient of the 1995 Anderson Foundation Stonewall Award and Foundation for Contemporary Arts Theatre Performer of the Year Award in 2005. Her book A Menopausal Gentleman, edited by Jill Dolan and published by Michigan Press, won the 2012 Lambda Literary Award for LBGT Drama. Peggy Shaw was the 2011 recipient of the Ethyl Eichelberger Award for the creation of RUFF, a musical collaboration that explores her experiences of having a stroke.

Nao Nagai 
Visual/Lighting Designer

Nao Nagai is a London-based lighting designer, technical collaborator and performer from Japan. After immigrating to the UK at the age of 15, she trained at Rose Bruford College in lighting design and has been lighting and collaborating on multi-genre performances inter/nationally. Work includes: Last Gasp WFH for Split Britches (nominated for Outstanding Digital Theatre by the Drama League); Dan Daw Show for the Dan Daw Creative Project; Scenes with Girls at the Royal Court; Yellowman at the Young Vic; Ceremonial Blue for Midori Takada and Lafawndah; Philharmonia Sessions for the Philharmonia Orchestra; Copyright Christmas for Duckie; Madama Butterfly and Tosca at the Arcola Theatre; Gaping Hole Story#3 with Rachael Mars and Greg Wohead; OUT and Night Clubbing with  Rachel Young; The Moment I saw You I knew I could Love you for curious international; Fake it Till You Make it with Bryony Kimmings; Putting Words in your Mouth with Scottee; Dr. Carnesky’s Bleeding Woman with Marisa Carnesky; and many more. Nao Nagai also performs regularly with the cult-pop performance group Frank Chickens (winner of Foster's Comedy God Awards). She is a tutor in Lighting Design at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Vivian Stoll
Sound/Music Designer

Vivan Stoll is a sound designer, audio engineer, music producer and musician. She has created music and sound design for the Split Britches Company for over 20 years and has been a collaborator on several projects. Her previous work includes  musical work with Unknown Gender, Isis, Malvina Reynolds, Penny Lang, Rosalie Sorrels, Frank Maya, Jon Kinzel, Rebecca Coupe Franks, Laurie Anderson and Bitch, among many others. She has taught sound design to film and animation students and is currently working on several independent music projects.
Morgan Thorson

Morgan Thorson is a dance-maker, performer and artist based in Minneapolis, MN, USA. Twice receiving the Sage Award for Outstanding Choreography (in 2006 and 2007), and a MacDowell Colony Fellow (in 2018 and 2012), her honours also include the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award (2016), and United States Artist (2012), Guggenheim (2010), and McKnight (2009 and 2002) fellowships. Her dance work has been commissioned by Walker Art Center, On the Boards, ODC, PS 122 and Maui Arts & Culture Center. She has received support from the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (2016, 2011 and 2009) and in 2015 her installation, Still Life, was featured in Local Time, a three-month exhibition at the Weisman Art Museum. Her most recent work, Group Choreography 2021, was part of a visual art exhibition at SIM in Iceland. From 2010 to 2016 she was a Creative Campus Fellow at Wesleyan University where she engaged students and professors in interdisciplinary practices, developing pedagogy in Dance, Archaeology, and Religious Studies. She is a Certified Skinner Releasing Technique practitioner.

Susan Young

Susan Young has collaborated in NYC and London experimental theatre since the 1980s, especially with Split Britches, the WOW Café, La Mama, PS 122, The Five Lesbian Brothers, Bloo Lips and The Ridiculous Theatrical Company. In 1989, she received an Obie Award and American Theater Wing Award for excellence in Costume Design. In the 1990s, she began a successful 25-year career as Global Manufacturing Leader at the fashion brand Eileen Fisher. Now retired, she has earned a graduate degree in Visual Arts Education at Hunter College. Susan Young is delighted to be back with Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw for Last Gasp: A Recalibration, having joined the project in London prior to the Covid lockdown in early 2020. 

Creative team

Created in collaboration with Lois Weaver, Peggy Shaw, Nao Nagai, Vivian Stoll and Morgan Thorson
Writers and performers Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw 
Director Lois Weaver 
Visual/Lighting Designer Nao Nagai 
Sound/Music Designer Vivian Stoll 
Choreographer Morgan Thorson 
Costumes Susan Young 
Design Consultant Matt Delbridge 

Producer Laura Hunter Petree 
Production Assistant Naz Simsek 
Social Media Aoife Scott 


For Last Gasp WFH: special thanks to Emily Sharpe and Steven Deadman for the generous emergency occupancy of their fine old house and to Helen Idle, Joan Leese, Beccy Trowler, Ali Mears and the Clod Ensemble for their support during those months.

For Last Gasp: A Recalibration: thanks to our friends, Joy Tomchin, Susan Thames, Eric Hammerstrom, Mermer Blakeslee, Arwen Wilder, Eleanor Savage, the Department of Drama at Queen Mary University of London, the Theatre and Performance Department at Goldsmiths, University of London and to our family at La MaMa ETC (NYC) and the Barbican for their ongoing support. 
Last Gasp: A Recalibration is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, in addition to the Wellcome Trust, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the NYC Women’s Fund for Media, Music and Theatre by the City of New York Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment in association with the New York Foundation for the Arts. Research residencies for the development of Last Gasp were completed with the Guthrie Theatre; Metal Culture, Peterborough; Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, and the Barbican.

Barbican Theatre Department

Toni Racklin Head of Theatre and Dance 
Simon Bourne Senior Production Manager 
Angie Smith, Leanne Cosby, Jill Shelley Producers 
Anna Dominian, Bridget Thornborrow Assistant Producers 
Kyle Bradshaw Marketing Manager
Kaya Birch-Skerritt Marketing Assistant
Angela Dias Senior Communications Manager
Freddie Todd Fordham Communications Officer
Lauren Brown Creative Learning Producer (Theatre, Dance, Poetry)
Jamie Maisey, Lee Tasker Production Managers  
Tony Brand, Steve Daly, Jane Dickerson, Martin Morgan, Stevie Porter Technical Managers  
Lucinda Hamlin, Charlotte Oliver Stage Managers 
John Gilroy, Nik Kennedy, Jamie Massey, Adam Parrott, Tom Salmon, John Seston, Chris Wilby Technical Supervisors 
David Green PA to Head of Theatre 
Caroline Hall Production Administrator 
Andrew Pellett Production Assistant 
Kendell Foster, Burcham Johnson, Christian Lyons, Charlie Mann, Josh Massey, Matt Nelson, Lawrence Sills, Neil Sowerby Technicians 
Heather Readdy Systems and Maintenance Technician 
Fiona Badgery, Gary Hunt, Nicola Lake Venue Managers 
Rebecca Oliver Access and Licensing Manager 
Elizabeth Wilks, Harriet Davis, Rob Norris Centre Managers (Delivery) 
Pheona Kidd Centre Manager (Planning) 
Mo Reideman Centre Manager (Health & Safety) 
Julian Fox, Albi Gravener Stage Door