Must was created by Clod Ensemble in collaboration with celebrated New York performance artist Peggy Shaw, an independent performer, writer, teacher and producer from New York. Peggy places her autobiography at the heart of all her work. Both her solo work and the work of Split Britches (which she co-founded with Lois Weaver and Deb Margolin) has been celebrating difference for nearly three decades and is influential in performances studies, gender studies and queer performance.
Must attempts to bring together a ‘medical’ view of Peggy’s body (her injuries, her anatomical make-up, her age, gender and sexuality) with her own experience of inhabiting her body. The piece takes us on a journey around her body, imagining it as a landscape where memories and images that shelter in the joints are revealed and stories and music embedded in layers of bones and dirt are excavated. Must takes a sideways glance at the medical gaze and humorously questions the assumptions people make about each other’s bodies.
Throughout the piece micro images of the interior of the human body are projected. (Images are shown courtesy of Wellcome Library, London)
Must has been performed in the UK and internationally in theatres, anatomy theatres and medical schools.
‘There are moments in theatre when space and performance collude so exactly they create something quite extraordinary. So it is with Peggy Shaw’s one-woman show, an enticing and evocative mixture of text and music. Taking place in the curved lecture theatre of the Medical School, it turns us all into students of Shaw’s body. Hers is one marked by loss and scarred by experience — and she is making an exhibition of herself just as the Elephant Man was made into an exhibition for the 19th-century medical world.
This is an exquisite lesson in anatomy, a journey underneath the skin, a mapping of the human body in which the sites of love and loss are placed under the microscope and analysed with a forensic gaze. It is as if Shaw is taking a scalpel to herself, opening up old wounds, so that the shadows of a lifetime are rendered visible, the joins where heart and bones were broken for all to see.
It’s a beautiful performance, measured, grounded, delicate and yet immensely powerful, of a brave and beguiling piece of writing. This is open-heart surgery of the artistic kind, performed without anaesthetic.’
Lyn Gardner, The Guardian