Total Theatre Explores:
Age and the Female Body within Physical and Visual Performance

The below transcript is of a panel presentation and discussion which took place on 17 September 2004 as part of Interdisciplinary Landscapes: Postfeminist Practices in the Arts, a conference held at University College Northampton. An international panel of experienced female theatre/performance practitioners each made a presentation on their work, contributing to a vital and engaging debate on the subject of age and the female body within physical and visual performance.

Chair: Dymphna Callery
Speakers: Linda Marlowe, Deborah Pope, Nola Rae, Bisakha Sarker, Lois Weaver.

Dymphna Callery: I'm not sure if I have been invited to chair the discussion because I am a woman of a certain age. It's something we have been discussing, what 'a woman of a certain age means'. I'm not going to say much, just indicate who is speaking when. There are two questions the speakers might like to cover during their talk.

The first, do you tell the truth about your age? And the second, what prompted you to accept the invitation to speak about the ageing body in performance? Just to be honest myself, I am 52. So Linda you are going to begin...

Linda Marlowe: I only started being honest about my age two years ago, and I am 64 now so I was 62. Having been an actress for thirty-two - thirty-four years now, and having started with a blonde dolly-bird image, even though I knew that wasn't me inside. Directors only cast you for what you looked like, then.

Having spent my childhood wanting to be in the circus and wanting to be a ballerina and training to be a ballerina until I was 16 and then being told I was a big lumpy girl and being put down. And then being put down again at drama schools for various things - I had a lisp; I would never make it as an actress. I was constantly being repressed and became very self-conscious of my body so that it became almost separate from me.

Although I had always wanted to dance and to do all these physical things, I suddenly found myself unable to, repressed by the kind of world I had got myself into. I felt that the body was nothing to do with the mind or with my acting but knew at the same time that in many ways I felt much more confident working through the body.

Lines frighten me; even now speaking without actually having a character to hide behind is very difficult. But I was passionate to come to speak here today because I think that with my age has come the liberation of everything. Surprisingly enough, when I was thirty I met a man called Steven Berkoff - I don't know if anybody knows who he is - but you would suppose that being the man that he is, he would be repressive towards women but to the contrary he actually made me realise that I could be anything that I wanted to be, I just had to bring my body into everything that I did. He started off saying I could play his mother, I'm three or four years younger than him, but obviously his image was that he wanted a mother that looked like me, someone younger, so I became the mother figure.

Although he did then have me playing the fellas, because he does have a problem with the role of women. But he changed my life - with the work he taught me to do, with the mime, the movement, with everything that he did. He made me feel in touch with my body again, that it wasn't something separate that I was embarrassed by because it did not fit with an image, with everything I had become. So in actual fact I have every thanks for him and for another director called Richard Jones, both of whom were very physical directors and brought me back in touch with everything I had always felt I wanted to be. So suddenly having thought that everything would be over when I was 30, I now felt reborn.

For some reason when I was a teenager I thought I would never live beyond 30, I don't know why I had this vision of 30 as a pinnacle but in the end it was over very quickly and then I was 40 and then 50 and now I've arrived at 64. I feel lucky to be a performer to be able to live my raison d'etre in what I do, and to become everything I have always wanted to be this way. I have never had to lie about my age again. I think its nonsense about age. I think what I do is better, I have more experience of my life, I know all the different characters, I can play old, I can play young; I just find a different body shape. If I want to be younger I stand up straighter, I smile, release my chest, my voice lifts slightly, if I want to play somebody older it's a totally different body shape. So by experimenting with all those body shapes, I remain completely in touch with my own body. And so actually, one final thing, it's the lines and the words that bother me, I'm terrified of forgetting something, of freezing on stage and so really it's not the physical challenges that are the problem, I'm happy to climb on a trapeze or to cartwheel, I don't feel frightened about that. In fact, physical gestures help me to remember the words, I know that if I do a certain arm gesture or lean forwards or to the side a little I'm saying a certain thing. Attaching physical gesture to my work has actually made me more confident because I'm more confident with words. So in fact it has done a two-fold thing. And this is coming from an actress - I'm not a dancer or mime artist - but I do some mime and some dance in my pieces and because I practice this has got better as I have got older.

Deborah Pope: I was fascinated too when I was asked to do this because I'm 48 now and I've always lied about my age, but I've always pretended to be older. I turned 48 on Thursday. I am actually a circus artist and I have been for 25 years and I'm a good circus artist and the fact that I can do thes amazing things at 48 or 49 or whatever age I choose to disguise myself as, it gives me more gravitas, so I think that's what comes out of it for me, this sense of gravitas.

I think my age now is interesting, 48, coming up to 50, near menopausal, am I about to become old? When I think about it I just go round and round in circles. I am very happy with myself and with my body but I do feel at a very transitional age as a woman and in the art form. When Becca [Becca Gill, Total Theatre Explores project manager) asked me, I was working at the Festival Hall (with Circus Oz) and an amusing analogy occurred to me because the Festival Hall was built in the 50s and it was much better then, had more optimism, state of the art design and technology. The design today is still very interesting and the people who went there are very comfortable but it is worn, the seats are worn, some of the fittings are a little. But it is the most amazing arena, and it had to be adapted from this 'high art' theatre venue to fit the thrash of the circus form. This wasn't a problem for anyone. Another interesting thing about the Royal Festival Hall is that it's having a facelift at the moment but it's not affecting any of the external features like the auditorium which does its job very well instead - they are upgrading the backstage area because the dressing rooms aren't big enough and it needs modernisation and stuff like that. So I think that's an interesting analogy that I'd like to come back to. I want to consider now all of those books on feminism, post-feminism, age - and the thing is that I kept thinking about it. This is my body, and it's a female body and I've worked on it for that past twenty-five years and it has been the subject of my political, personal, emotional life, it has been the subject of my work, it has led me down the most amazing paths. I love it; I didn't love it then, but I love it now and I love where it has taken me. And I think that I work in this amazing field, circus, and it's a physical field so it has changed me physically.

Also, circus has an odd place in our culture. You are an 'other', an outsider in our culture traditionally. There are a number of things about circus that are incredible and as I've worked in it over the years there are certain things I think are amazing...

I think I'll go back to a potted history now of myself. I was born forty-eight years ago in New Zealand, I was the eldest of two daughters and became a feminist in the seventies and I left to go around the world on my own because I thought I could, and I did. And I arrived in Thatcherite Britain a few years later and I arrived in a place that was in political and cultural turmoil. And there was this surge of visual performance and cross-disciplinary work across the art forms. Impact, Welfare State...

Steven Berkoff was working on a more mainstream level. It was actually a very exciting time. So I took up residence in a female squat in Islington where I met the Cunning Stunts. Now the Cunning Stunts are amazing, they were a feminist theatre company. And through them, I was introduced to circus. They had an amazing impact on my life at that time. It was physical skills and gender equality that attracted me at first and I wasn't disappointed in it at all. I have never been disappointed. The kind of gender equality I got on a very practical level because I was learning traditionally very male skills, I was flying trucks and rigging in high places. The number of men who came up to me and said 'Darling, you don't want to do that...' and it was fine, I loved it. I was changing my own perception of myself. The physical strength and the power it gave me and a sort of grotesque beauty that I want to come back to, were all things it gave me. It changed the way I was physically, it changed my perception of myself and it changed the way that other people saw me and I think that's the crux of age, of being female, of being an aging female body. It's actually about the way that society and culture perceives me. And I think I'm onto a winner because I can change how I perceive myself, create different readings of myself because circus is such an 'other' world. So anyway, it's huge! And I sat up last night trying to draw conclusions and I realised that I'm only 48 and I don't need to draw conclusions. Linda is most certainly the oldest trapeze artist and I think that is the most amazing thing and I look forward to making new work at the age of 64. So I just want to wrap up my potted history. In my 30s and 40s I was in my prime circus-wise and there was a resurgence in skills, circus sort of came into mainstream. It all changed, there was a lot more work around for me. So I became one of Britain's foremost aerial artists. It was a title I gave myself and others gave me and I had the most hybrid vocabulary of work.

With the Royal Opera House and the Royal Shakespeare Company when circus was still a rather odd word, and I worked on radio with my circus and I was intrigued by how far I could take myself and my form into other forms. In the end I created a certain vocabulary that is not dance, not circus but sort of un-label-able, which is precisely where I want to be as a woman because I think the less label-able you are the more you can move around in this world. Then, one of the greatest pieces I have done so far, it (Deadly) was based on the seven deadly sins and a relationship. It was a physically and emotionally demanding show that I did in 1996 when I was 40. And people said, and still do say, how can you do all of these things at your age? But this is my age and I can do these things - and still do perform Deadly. Another interesting analogy for me was working on the Millennium Dome, which gave me money. In my world, there aren't huge amounts of money, and as a 48 year-old woman I want money that reflects my experience. But the most interesting thing about that was the political history for me, because I arrived in London and I went to Greenham Common and did workshops and 20 years later I was performing in the Millennium Dome. Politically, it was satisfying so really that's where my financial career and my political career took hold. That is part of my development as a woman in this world; the political became more personal for me. And now I'm directing more and moving into a more traditional world and as I do so, I look around and I see how many women directors there are and I see that I'm an associate director and the artistic directors are generally younger than me and male, and I notice these things as part of this more traditional context. I also feel that at 48 I feel very young, I feel young in terms of my experience as a woman. And again in circus there are 70 year-old circus artists who are working in the profession. And that's the thing about circus: if you're good enough, that's what people want from you, your skill, so it doesn't matter how old you are.

In this traditional world I'm now in there are different role models. In circus there are a lot of women managers, performers, bosses. But there are no definitive role models so you can go anywhere next. And another thing I find inspiring about circus is that what the body does is beautiful and grotesque at the same time. You see this beauty and also this ugliness. The body can be beautiful and ugly in circus and I can move from the beauty of circus to its ugliness, to society's perception of the ugliness that comes to my body with age - and maybe that will interest other people. It will certainly always fascinate me. So I think I've just about finished there.

Nola Rae: I'm going to be going back to my body at the age of 8, because at the age of 8 I started to train in ballet. I was forced to do this by my father, who looked at me in the cradle and said aaah hasn't she's got beautiful hands, this girl should dance. Shame he didn't look at my feet, which are like his and completely wrong for ballet. But anyway, from the age of 8 I wanted to dance and I entered a world where the female dancer was the best, the all-important one. We girls, we ballerinas, were the ones everybody wanted to see. The men at that point were not dancing particularly well. It wasn't until Nureyev came on the scene that men began to pick up their work and people wanted to see Nureyev and Fonteyn when before they'd only wanted to see Fonteyn. So I came into this world with an inferiority complex, which stood me in good stead. Also ballet dancers, the training, is a very harsh world I think, ballet teachers are very stiff, military in a way and you have to learn how to let things just pass you by. I eventually went to the Royal Ballet School and then got a job in Sweden, I certainly wasn't good enough to have a job in England at that point but Sweden would have me. It was during that time that I met my mentor Marcel Marceau who was passing through the theatre for a one-night stand and I asked him if I could join his school because I had - well, my mother had sent me an article about him - and he said yes. And I said don't I have to audition? And he said you're not a mime - you'll have to learn this with me. So anyway, eventually I ended up in Paris where I was always referred to as the Swedish girl.

Mime was, the technique of mime, was physically relatively easy because ballet was so hard, it is perhaps the most difficult of all practices except maybe gymnastics and circus work. So mime was physically relatively simple to a dancer but the mental processes were not so simple. We were not really taught to think for ourselves in ballet but in mime nothing is written for you, you have to learn to create for yourself. I left Marceau's after about five months when my money ran out and I joined a theatre company in France called English Theatre which was a bit stupid really being French - avant garde. That was where I started to learn about theatre. I had a few lines to say, one of them I'll never forget, I was playing Romany in Oedipus' Electra and had to say 'What, more trouble Electra? What has happened now?' I was hopeless at saying lines like that. I was dire, really dire. However, at that point we were starving - as ever, we were making no money, I think I worked out that I spent seven years of my early career making no money. I learnt to busk, though.

After that I joined a company called Friends Roadshow with an extraordinary clown called Jango Edwards and our remit was to do, to play, for anyone anywhere. We did comedy clubs, all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff. I was still busking and that was when I learnt how to be a clown. At first we were six and then it became twelve and finally, before I left, twenty-five. It all became too much, we were living together in a squat in Crystal Palace and the cleaning rotas got more important than the work, so at that point I left. I had my own group: we started as six and then went down to three and then it was just Matthew Ridout and me - who I'm still with now. We have been working together for over thirty years. Doing what we would call mime. Now mime is really a dirty word, you say it and people take a step back like it is some sort of incommunicable disease. The essence of mime is pantomime because pantomime is what mime is, to be able to play anything, to chop and change. It is actually a very wonderful subject, a very difficult one but wonderful. Physically, it's quite demanding - you have to have a huge amount of concentration to actually work as a mime because if you don't know what you're doing then the audience isn't going to know. It is the art of concentration. I was doing sketches and avoided female subjects mainly by playing men all the time, I was thinking that I was doing satire which I probably was and in those days the role models for satire were generally masculine. I didn't really want to stick the nedles into feminine issues because there weren't any role models, for instance I would play a conductor but to be a female conductor would be confusing so I was a masculine one. In those days, I did mime for two reasons: one was revenge, I played a conductor to take revenge for all those years as a ballet dancer, and the other was sympathy, as a waiter. I had spent a lot of time over the years watching waiters in different countries; this was the experience I drew upon. I don't think at that time I worked on any kind of intellectual concept, if I fancied doing something I'd do it, it fitted well into the sketch format of the show because the show was supposed to be contrasting, so that was fine. Around 1990 I changed radically because I decided to do a woman. It took me twenty years to get to this stage. So I thought I'd like to do a woman - who? I started doing Elizabeth the First. At this point I asked Simon McBurney of Complicite to come in and help me and this was the first time I really read about my subject a lot. I read a lot of books about Elizabeth. Of course you can't really do intellectual things when you're doing mime, for example her religious callings, it's too difficult. But you can do the fact that she felt lonely, her imperiousness, you can do her musicianship. You can do quite a lot about her life through the medium of 'old mime' because with this you must deal with emotions. Anyway I worked out Elizabeth with Matthew and I put it in front of Simon, he looked at it and he said 'aaah yes, very rich,' and then he tore it to pieces. First of all, he said, you have to play a woman that is any woman so the audience can sympathise with this character.

So here I am, about 40-something, playing an elderly lady which was fun. I had never been tempted to play anybody old before: someone who becomes Elizabeth in her own living room. At that point it was the middle of Thatcher's reign so I tried to get a bit of Thatcher in there, a few Thatcher gestures. And that was good; people said it was about loneliness which it was, that loneliness of people dying off, which happened to her. One little old lady came over at the end of a show and said it was a perfect presentation of senile dementia.

Then I decided to do a show with another lady, a two woman show, I had done a couple of two man shows before but this was a two woman show. And I chose Sally Owens, ex Ballet Rambert and Second Stride. And we did a show about immigration and I played an uptight Scottish lady and she played an Italian and we had to share a cabin on an immigration voyage. This is where my great ageing started at the age of 43. Three days before the opening of this show, I tripped over and broke my kneecap, an injury I am still fighting with. Up until then, I had always been pretty active, I still did ballet classes. This injury stopped me dead in my tracks and it's something I still wish I had never done. We came back to the show after about six months and re-rehearsed it - and I have to say that we had to re-rehearse it because we had to be much cleverer, we couldn't do the physical tricks that we had before. So now what you are doing is much more psychological and actually much more interesting - I just wish that I hadn't had to break my knee to start that process off.

So then we get to...I go back to playing men and have continued to play men actually. Mozart. Now here I am in my late 40s, 49 or so, I'm saving my exact age until the end, and I'm playing a young man from the age of 22 to his death at 36. It was quite a physically demanding role actually but I managed it. I then did a lot of later shows about dictators and the route that dictators take and I found that I was beginning to change the way I approached a role, it took me this long. Now I research a lot before I begin to work physically on a role, I read a lot. It takes me a long time to get rid of the books and to stand up. But it's funny how the informatin you read, what's in your head, is there in your body, it's physically there. It's to do with rhythm, it's to do's hard to explain what its to do with, but the mental process is enhancing the way that I work. The other thing is that I had to change was my warm up; my warm up is very important, and I used to do an acrobatic warm up but now I warm up for much longer, I have to, I'm creaking like mad, a show really takes it out of me.

But I don't work with tension, as a young person I used to work with a tremendous amount of physical tension, which was no good to me at all, and at the end of a show I'd be bound up on the floor - just too much tension. Of course when you break your knee and you get old you have to find a completely new way of working and you have to stay accurate because it's so important to be accurate in mime but not physically accurate, so it brought me onto this better way of working, more sustainable way of working. With age comes stiffness, stiffness, stiffness, and you have to work on energy a lot. And I do have to bow to limitations but I don't bow too much. I try not to repeat myself. I am always nervous about new work, quietly confident now but still this terrible nervousness. When I was young, I didn't think I existed outside my art form, I was a mime and that was it but now I am more of a person, more of a woman. I mean - I have breasts, and hips and a stomach! I've never had that before, it feels weird, it's too late! My comedy is important to me now, but its darker.

Teaching - I think I'm better at teaching because age gives a certain amount of respect, but you have to remain one step ahead of your pupils, you can't let them get the better of you and still I can give them a run for their money so that's good. Mime is ageless anyway, once you put that make up on nobody can tell how old you are, which I think is a good thing. And Marceau is still going, he's 81, I saw him at the Festival Hall on stage, in a three thousand seated auditorium, he looked alive onstage. Then when I went to see him backstage and he was this little shrivelled old man. He is just ageless because he is a wonderful mime and he can play anything he likes.

I am now 55.

Bisakha Sarker: I don't hide my age but I have also studied statistics at some point in my life, so I know the power of number and I prefer not to attach a number, because it is so easy to remember a number but not the other things that the number is representing. I have taken this invitation because this is something I have been thinking of for a long, long time and as it seems we are ageing, even from the day we are born. It was such a surprise to me that other people are thinking about it too, that they have a body, they might have got a problem too, or not. It was wonderful - I jumped at it in spite of all those huge travel arrangements. It's something I truly believe in, and not just that I believe in, but that we should all believe in collectively. That's why I'm here. When I was thinking about it - this is when I show my age, no preparation notes - this is the thing with age, once you give it a number you also start to use it as an excuse. Quite often the reason is that I am scared to put my thoughts in words and I am doing five hundred different things. And then I thought, this is what I am living, it is not something I need to research and read about. It's not someone else, it's actually me. Last night at a dance performance I was saying I had to do a talk tomorrow and then I said something about it being about performing arts and the ageing body, and they said what are you feeling about it? But this is not just about the ageing body; it's also about the female ageing body. As I was thinking about it, I thought there were two ways of looking at it - one is on a personal level and the other on a social level. And on the personal level, I thought of three issues: one is to acknowledg and realise the difficulties of performing with an ageing body and it's about making that decision. For a long time, you try to hide under a costume, make up...all kinds of things; I am terrified that as I try to sit down or stand up I will wobble, that I might have to use my hands to stand up at the last minute. And that worry becomes so big that the pleasure of performing goes out of it and in that moment, that shows the hiding is not a good thing. So, coming to a decision about how I am going to tackle this thing, am I going to change something, am I going to look at it positively or am I going to stop? And then, having made the decision comes the third stage. Actually living it. I think I started this many, many years ago when I fell, running away from a mob at a pop concert - I fell and hurt my knee and I went to the doctor and said please don't put it in a plaster, I have so many things to do. And this doctor agreed to that so I suffered for a long time and now I wish I had suffered then for a few months. For a long time, I refused to go to the doctor because I didn't want to have to stop anything.

At the time I was working with a lot of people with disabilities and strongly believing in what I was doing. And I would say to people, I was working with that it doesn't matter that they have this or that, they can still dance. So then I stopped and thought - what am I doing? My vanity was so big that what I said to them was not right for me? So I decided that I had to get over the injury and I accepted my own body, because I teach dance and I teach it as an art form that is truthful not as 'outside clothing' that I take off but as the truth of me, it has to be truthful. So I continue dancing, but the one thing I thought I would do and enjoyed doing was changing the content of the dance, because what I was dancing at 16 did not fit with the injury so well. I needed to dance in a way that supported my body. So I started to look at text-based work, which I already enjoyed; and in the Indian dance (that is what I do), there are three elements of dance: pure dance, abstract dance, acting and mime dance. So there is already a trend of doing that which I was already doing a little and enjoyed. At that time, the argument was that words and language had always supported Indian dance, at one time we danced to Sanskrit, which is a classical ancient language of Indian culture; from that, we started to dance to regional languages. And then I thought - when I'm living in England I am surrounded by English and I would like to try to find a home for my dance within that language structure, if I could find ways of moving that language structure through my dance it would be an interesting challenge for me. And another decision - not really a decision because you don't really take a decision it only becomes a decision when you look back - I decided I would like to begin dance that is not so formal that is not necessarily in the theatre but is anywhere. Why are we so precious, why do we have to be confined within a structure? So I started to make pieces and find interesting elements that I can dance. And I would like at this point to dance one of my pieces to show what I mean because I think as an artist it is really your art form that can communicate what you are saying...

[Bisarkha dances accompanied by recorded poetry reading]

Lois Weaver: I used to go into my bathroom and practice the striptease as a child; I'd stand in front of the mirror with my towel and pyjamas and practice a routine. Now, I had quietly put that desire to sleep as an adolescent but as I became a touring performance artist I got it back out of the closet and when I began to make my own work both with Spiderwoman Theatre in the 70s and Split Britches in the 80s, I began to use the idea of striptease in my work.

It was a way to reveal layers, to deal with different layers of identity and to shed layrs of identity and to talk about how we were layered as women, as feminists, as lesbians.

Also, it became a way for me to work with the idea of transformation, how to be one thing then to undress and suddenly be something quite different. I began to work very specifically with this in a piece in 1998 called Little Women - the Tragedy. This was apparently about the life and works of Louisa M Alcott, but really it was a way for me, and my colleagues, to explore the debate at the time between feminism and pornography. And we decided in that piece, if we were going to deal with feminism, and we were going to deal with pornography, and we were going to deal with censorship, the first thing we would have to do was to take off our clothes. So pretty much the first thing we did in the piece was to appear naked and we reverse stripped into Victorian costume. And through this I realised I had hit upon a brilliant form for myself. That this was a form I could continue to use in many different contexts - and I continued to experiment with it over the next ten years at least. I used it in the club setting and created my own burlesque piece where I came out completely naked and I'd look around as though it was a complete mistake. I'd ask for music and put my clothes back on to the strip. That to me subverted the idea of striptease and what striptease means in a male culture. It enabled me to play with the awkwardness of getting dressed and getting undressed.

Then I began to implement that form in other pieces, I could go naked and be calm in front of an audience: I mean, what are my characters, tell me why not? I'd be a failed country and western singer trying desperately to be a lesbian performance artist. And in another piece I started naked and reverse stripped into Tennessee Williams. So it gave me a form to play with. Then I realised that I could use it in very different contexts at that time I was starting to talk at conferences and in academic situations, which often terrified me, so I would sometimes arrive on my podium completely naked and reverse strip as part of my talk. So my motto became - well, when in doubt just take off your clothes. Because somehow it allowed me to start from wherever I was and then to build.

Then about three years ago I froze, stopped, just could not do it anymore, and I would make a booking and say oh yes I'll do that then I just couldn't get myself to be naked onstage and I realised that that was about ageing and about how I saw myself as an ageing body. And when I took it apart I realised that it wasn't because I have a big nipple which is one of the things that happens when you go into the menopause, or that I had cellulite which I'd always had, although perhaps I now had more, it wasn't about gravity taking its toll. It wasn't any of those because in fact, in the work I had done I had played with that kind of body. It was more to do with how I saw myself as an ageing woman. What does it look like? How did I think the audience would see me as a naked older woman? I didn't know how to do that. So I froze. I stopped doing it and I thought okay that's it; it was good and its over. I still tried to incorporate it in other ways because I love burlesque and I started to intellectualise a bit and thought I would do something about an ageing burlesque star, the look of the elegance of the strip and the look of some of the cultural ideas about erotic behaviour. None of that really worked. I'd stalled. In the meantime, somebody gave me a quote by Ruth Gordon, one of my all time favourite actors: 'how old would you be if you didn't know how old you were?'. I started to think about that a little bit and then I started to think that I would have to come to terms with the actual numbers, I like numbers so I began to consider the number 54. It's a big number, the Royal Festival Hall is 50 and it's a big building, it's a big number....

(Lois stands)

I'm going to show yo how big a number it is; I'm going to count it out for you. (Strip performance whilst counting to 54. When panties are revealed, we see they carry a slogan - Give Bush the Finger. At the finale, puts on a fluffy red dressing gown and sits). Now, in the last three months I have been reclaiming this for myself because as you can see I want to take off my clothes in public, so I have been doing a bit of research to help me along my way. So I went to an exotic world, which is the museum of the history of burlesque in Hellendale, California. There is a woman there, her name is Dixie Evans, and she decided to make her entire house into a museum of stripping. So I went there and I interviewed her thinking: what does Tammy Why-Not, my character, need to know about stripping and burlesque? So I asked Dixie, who is 80 and still stripping, 'Do you think I'm too old?' And she said, 'I would not worry about age one iota - whatever you do your audience will love you.'

So I was inspired by that, and just a couple of weeks ago at a Republican National Convention, there was lots of protest as you know, and there was something called a Panty Flash organised by an organisation called Axis of Eve, (they are the ones responsible for creating the pants.) So at the Panty Flash everyone was meant to take off their trousers and show their panties at the same time. I was totally inspired and took off my top and my panties and was standing like this for the world. And I was surrounded by paparazzi and surrounded by crap. And in that moment I thought about all the things I've been saying to you, about how I felt about my body, about how I'd come to use the striptease in this feminist way. Here I was standing naked being photographed by men, by paparazzi, in Battery Park at the Republican National Convention, and I was doing it for peace. I enacted for myself a real fantasy about how old I am, who I am, in this body, in public and using it in a way that I love for a cause that I love and I felt absolutely fine about it. And I started making jokes with them: I hoped I wouldn't lose my job at the university over this; is this what you mean by the male gaze? I took advantage of the moment and I attribute my ability to do this to Dixie. And I thought, I wished I could do a Dixie strip. Well we had recorded, videoed my interview with Dixie, and so we created an actual Dixie strip with her motto on the back...

(Lois hands out cards with photos of Dixie Evans and the words: I Would Not Worry About Age One Iota)

Thank you!

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Total Theatre Explores 2006