“I walked down Bowery, I turned right on Bond and I did not know where I was.” A lot of people can identify with this line from “The Lost Lounge,” a new show at Dixon Place from downtown feminist theater trailblazers, Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw. Earlier this week, I stopped by the theater to talk with them about their latest collaboration, the changing neighborhood and the good ol’ days on the Bowery.
Lois and Peggy founded the Wow Cafe, a women’s theater collective, in 1981, and the Split Britches Lesbian feminist theater company at about the same time. Starring in at least 20 plays, spanning more than two decades, they were once romantic partners. As Weaver told Time Out, “(today) we have other lovers, both of us, and have for about ten or 15 years. But we’re still very primary. We’re partners in work, and life partners, too.” They both live in the Copper Square apartments, and have always been active in neighborhood politics, especially the fight for affordable housing. Their current project is rooted in those battles – and memories of a changing city.
But the themes explored are universal. In fact, “The Lost Lounge” pays homage to a little bar in Hawaii, sandwiched between a Hyatt and a Hilton. When Lois and Peggy visited years ago, they just knew the lounge wouldn’t last – and it didn’t. As Lois put it, “Your memory is attached to your landscape. The things we recall are the things we’re able to see. When the landscape starts to change and those things disappear our memories become unstable and, to a certain extent so do our identities.”
Before each performance begins, they ask members of the audience to talk about the things they’ve lost, the places in New York they miss. Those images are then woven into the show. “In the 70’s, Peggy said, “we always believed change was good… now it’s big greed.” Lois and Peggy have been dealing with the subject of gentrification in their work since in 80’s. But the torrid pace of development in the past decade compelled them to revisit the topic in “The Lost Lounge.” “The last 6 years, what happened on the Bowery,” Lois explained, “it was like a tidal wave or something, and it was such a shock to our system…That’s what got us going.”
In 1983, they paid $500 a month for a storefront in the East Village. Three years later, the neighborhood began to change in a big way. All of a sudden, that little space was $3,000, and they were forced to move. Today, the Wow Cafe Theatre is part of the thriving 4th Street Arts Block.
Lois and Peggy go way back with Dixon Place, which recently celebrated the grand opening of its new home on Chrystie Street. They say it’s exciting to perform in a space that’s still “a holdout for artists and developmental work.” Lois said it’s more important than ever for artists in New York to have venues like Dixon Place. “When we made our work in the 80’s,” she said, “we also made the place to make the work. I think that’s not as possible and I think the result is that lot of people have left New York.” But Peggy added, it’s always been tough to be an artist in New York. “I still tell people, don’t listen to anyone. You can come to New York.”
You can see “The Lost Lounge” at Dixon Place through December 19th. Check out their web site for more information.