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Interview: Lois Weaver unveils the radical performance festival Peopling the Palaces

Image: Photograph of Lois Weaver.


In June Queen Mary University of London in revolutionary East London will host Peopling the Palaces. The free festival of radical performance, activism and workshops from artists like Nando Messias, Meg Hodgson, and Shaun Caton.


Legendary performance art activist and theatre maker Lois Weaver curates the festival and gives Run Riot the heads up on the highlights and her ground-breaking career.


The festival is free and open to all with highlights like Meg Hodgson’s bonkers performance Moonface; Mad Hearts - a two day conference on arts and mental health, a new experience by internationally renowned artist Shaun Caton and a long table on Fragility, Festivals, Funding and other F- Words in Live Art as well as performance showcases to catch the next big batshit thing before it gets massive.


Lois Weaver is an artist, activist, facilitator, and Professor of Contemporary Performance at Queen Mary University of London. Lois is a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow and a Wellcome Trust Engaging Science Fellow for 2016-19. She was awarded the WOW Women in Creative Industries ‘Fighting the Good Fight’ award in 2018. Her work hinges on visibility, challenging convention, and public engagement.


RR: Hi Lois thanks so much for chatting with Run Riot. In June you’ll be hosting radical performance festival Peopling the Palaces festival 2023 in the heart of East London. Can you tell us more about the festival and what it’s all about?


Lois: We have a wonderful People's Palace right in the heart of our Queen Mary campus and at one time it was the cultural heart of the East End. Starting around 2006, we produced lots of wild, DIY arts and culture events in that Palace but after a while, we decided to spread the love, throw open the doors on some of our everyday Palaces and invite the People into those to see the kinds the thinking and creating that goes on the Queen Mary throughout the year.  So every June we spend about 10 days celebrating the performance work of our graduates and alumni. We invite academic staff to share their research or to have interdisciplinary conversations with other academics that they might not have met before. And we invite artists who have inspired us and activists who have challenged us to come show some new work and new insights. All in an atmosphere of good fun.


RR: What highlights should people book now?


Lois: Wow it’s hard to choose. There are some experimental conversations on how medicine can better help us identify the risk of neurological disease, how the feeling of a place like a university affects experience, on the fragility of a life as an artist these days. But there are some great, fun performances lined up too. Moonface is a kind of physical theatre/ drag performance about mining on the moon that is taking place in an actual Observatory on the Queen Mary campus; Jelly Live is a live multimedia performance of a new album by Andrew Poppy; TransMission: Sissy TV by Nando Messias and Ascension by Shaun Cole are two exciting live art performances by two well-known artists. Oh!, and so much more.


RR: Tell us about your latest show Last Gasp with your collaborator Peggy Shaw and your future plans for your pioneering feminist theatre duo Split Britches. 


Lois: Last Gasp was meant to be a live performance that became a film during lock down and has now become a live performance again. Peggy and I are getting on in age, we are in our 70s - and thought this might be our last performance- hence the last gasp.


Plus, we were feeling breathless because of all of the very fast political and cultural changes going on around us. But then we were also thinking of the planet and how, because of climate change, the earth might be feeling some last gasps.


Then of course as we were working COVID happened, and George Floyd happened and we were ALL struggling to breathe. So, our show, Last Gasp, became about all of this, about breath and breathing. And maybe that’s where we are going next, finding out how we can learn from these last few years and slow down, take a breath and really listen to ourselves and each other.


That why my current work is about finding ways like – long tables, and porch sittings- to get people to talk to each other. I think that is the work of the future. 



RR: Tell us about radical care and how it comes into your work. How does politics come into your work?


Lois: I guess my politics have always been wrapped up in care - not just that I fight for the things I care about, fairness for example, but how I fight. Of course, it's important to act but it’s important to think about how to approach that action and that opens up a conversation about an ethics of care or even an aesthetics of care. I suppose my aesthetics of care involves a ‘radical hospitality’. 


I care about making people feel welcome and comfortable because then they can bring their best selves to the table. That’s why a lot of my work centres around a domestic and familiar spaces – like dinner tables - so that people might feel freer to speak up in public. And the foundation of my feminist politics is that I believe everyone should have a place at the table. But Radical care is not just about individual agency- it's also about group responsibility.


That is why we are doing a Long Table on Care and Solidarity in the festival. There is so much focus on selfcare these days but we also want to apply that focus to our wider and more collective struggles. We want to have a conversation that focuses on care in solidarity with others. 


RR: You have a long history of activism and theatre, what have been your most memorable moments and how would you encourage the next generation?


Lois: My favourite thing in life is making things and not just my own artwork or performances but making things happen with other people. In NYC in the 1980s, I got together with friends to make a festival for women artists and that festival grew into a collective that founded a women’s performance space called WOW. We founded it on non-hierarchical principles – no artistic directors, no board, no funding applications. Our only form of organisation and governance strategy was a weekly community meeting. That space is still going 40 plus years later, using those same principles and has been the home to many diverse women-identified artists. In many ways, that is how we organise the Peopling the Palaces Festival. 


We have a weekly Care Café where we sit at small tables and make things and make things happen. So my advice would be – don't wait for funding or the right opportunity but find a place, and some people who are willing to meet you at that place on a regular basis and make things happen.


RR: Who or what inspires you to be a queer activist in 2023 and what would be your message for the people? 


Lois Weaver: It is such a creative and wonderful time to be young but it is also terrible to be facing the many crises that young people are facing. But they keep me going and what I would say to them is- KEEP going!


Take risks, make mistakes. Let failure be your mentor and friend. Stay safe but allow yourself to be uncomfortable and let that discomfort give you some ideas about how to move forward and how to move forward more responsibly. I know this is a hard time and our futures feel uncertain but try and have some fun and don t take it all so seriously or personally. Let the old people do that. It’s our fault after all!


Peopling The Palace(s) Festival

3-11 June

School of English and Drama (QMUL)

Queen Mary University London



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