Make something: a manifesto for making performance about making change

We wrote a manifesto in 2007, when it was published in Staging International Feminisms, edited by Elaine Aston and Sue Ellen-Case. Here we have collected and rearranged a few excerpts from the original manifesto.

The tasks

  • Begin

Peggy: Start from zero every day. Fill your worry hole with whatever is at hand, even the simple, stupid things like owning a car in Manhattan and moving it to the other side of the street on a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday.

  • Make a pact

Lois: Wake up and find a collaborator. She might be lying in the bed next to you. She might be a character that fell from your hands as you drifted to sleep. She may no longer be a she. She may have always been a he […]

Peggy: Walk up to her. Slowly. Don’t assume too much or too little. Just ask a question. Always start with a question. […]

Lois: Any question. She’ll try to answer with the first thing that comes into her mind, on impulse right or wrong, true or false. True impulse. It is the thing you do or say without really thinking. It starts and finishes in the place between thought and action, between the inhale and the exhale. It is your origin and your original thought. Don’t second-guess it.

Peggy: Don’t try to make her up. See what she has to say. Find out what’s in the room. Don’t try to make the room fit into your idea of what it should be.

Lois: This is the beginning of your collaboration. Allow anything to happen once you walk into the room […] But remind her that she doesn’t have to tell a story. She doesn’t even have to tell the truth. She can lie. […] Now make a contract. It doesn’t matter what it says, just some kind of promise to show up tomorrow and keep going […]

  • Make something

Lois: Start with time. Steal it if you have to and use it to collect your ingredients: some facts, a lie, a feeling, a gesture, an object, an uncovered memory, an incomplete story, a song, a dance. Mix them together and make something the way you would make dinner, a cake, a mess, or a dress

  • Locate desire

Peggy: Once I realised that my main desire was to make shows and to create new things, I realised what a burden it must be to want to be successful in the mainstream - like wanting to have a show on Broadway or a painting in a fancy gallery. […]

Lois: Ask yourself, what do I want? What have I always wanted to do? Wanted to be? Look for the desires that feed your dreams […] But if need, like desire, is too painful […] thenr ely on will. Just do something. Write something down. Make a list of ingredients. Then mix, tear, fold that list into something else. And when the time is right, ask yourself and your collaborator. ‘What would I do if I was free, if I was a millionaire, if I had all I needed to make the things I wanted to make?’

  • Beg, borrow, and steal

Lois: There’s plenty to choose from […] Steal from the richness of popular culture. Take it, use it, twist and subvert it, then return it upside-down

  • Embrace Accident

Lois: Pay attention to the things that get in your way, items that fall onto the sidewalk as you walk to work, old ideas you uncover when you are cooking the noodles, phrases, or faces that will not leave your mind alone. Don’t disregard the ‘I didn’t mean to say that,’ the fight before breakfast, the music that tormented your mother about how things were before the occupation, the fur coat you almost threw out but couldn’t because it reminded you of the glamour she left behind. Look the accident in the face.

  • Have faith in humour

Lois: Use humour. Tell a joke, even a dirty joke. Find funny people and imitate them Copy their rhythm and gestures and change their words to your.

Peggy: I tried to be funny when I was working with Bloolips, a gay men’s theatre company from London. I found that the only way for me to be funny, or to be the clown, was to totally make myself vulnerable. Some things just aren’t funny. But if you cut to the pain you might find a funny bone. And that kind of humour can pull you up short. It can heal you. It can make friends with your enemies.

  • Rely on your body

Lois: The only thing to remember, the best piece of advice, your best friend and, when all else fails, the best starting place of all is your body […] the body holds a fuller knowledge, a global memory, a connection to all you have seen and wanted to forget and to all you have forgotten. Let the body speak. Let the gesture tell your fortune. Move if you can’t think and record the feeling of the movement, the memory of the muscle, the insight of your bones.

  • Imagine context

Peggy: Start with your worst assumption about yourself. I am a racist, sexist. I am homophobic, classist. It may feel hurtful and hateful and of course, it may contradict everything you are trying to say. But you need to see and feel the source of the wrong you are trying to right. Be the enemy. It will create an atmosphere that allows for mistakes and change rather than the politically correct assumptions that disable our creativity […] Calling yourself something isn’t a pigeonhole, it is a context […] Look, listen and ask questions about the big subjects that surround you: breast cancer, Islamophobia, gender dysphoria. Then focus on the details: a woman’s desire to go topless, a Muslim lesbian’s fascination with the burkah, the use of the masculine pronoun in Brazilian Portugese

Lois: Start with the local. Mention the war or make something about hope or try to relieve the disaster with your humble making, but start with the personal. Make a work about war by considering the conflict between you and your collaborator. Think about mud before you try to stop the flood. And if you are talking about mud, ask yourself ‘what I really want to talk about is…’ and don’t worry if your thoughts turn to the colour red. Follow red.

  • Make believe

Lois: If you can’t say what you believe in, think about what you rely on.

Peggy: I rely on mistakes. The point is to do the best you can every day, stop worrying about getting it right. Give up. Just give up. That’s when there is room for infiltration and divine grace. Once you realise you want to be an artist, not a successful artist, but an artist, what do you have to lose? […] I believe everyone is an artist. I believe you learn from everything and everybody. You take up space, you have a shadow, light falls on you, you make a sound, time passes, you die. You watch others die. You watch others live. Watch where you are going. Look into the light and the shadows. Question everything. Write it all down every day. Every single detail of your life is important.

Lois: […] If we can imagine something, we can make it; if we can make something, we can make it change.

  • Make it public

Don’t stop. Keep going. This is the only chance you have. You have to finish this now. Set a date and perform, show, try. Do it before you don’t.