Don’t Split Your Britches, But Here’s Some SPLIT BRITCHES

For those not familiar with the work of Split Britches, it is the lesbian feminist theatre company founded in 1980 by Peggy Shaw, Lois Weaver, and Deb Margolin.

The story behind the company’s name is fantastic and resonates with a family anecdote of my own.  Here is their explanation of it: “Split Britches takes its name from a garment worn by Lois Weaver’s ancestors in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. It’s an undergarment that is split so the women could pee standing up in the fields. It’s a good metaphor for our work: independent and personal bordering on the private. And it’s funny – you could split your britches laughing!”  Just this past December, my 83 year old great aunt Annie Bell told me a similar story of how, as a child, she watched from her parents’ front porch as women working in the fields lifted their dresses and urinated standing up.  Now, she made it seem like they weren’t wearing any britches, let alone split ones, but in her defense, she was digging way back in her memory.

The clip below gives a great introduction to Split Britches.  It’s from a presentation they gave in 2006 at the University of Michigan, and it runs 1:22:14.  I recommend fast forwarding through it to two particular parts, which are actually filmed clips of older work:

  • At minute 27:40, there is a clip of “Anniversary Waltz,” a piece they performed at La Mama in 1990.  It’s a butch/femme parody of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
  • At minute 36:30, there is a clip of “Belle Reprieve,” a piece they performed at Theatre Rhinoceros in 1990.  It’s an exploration of masculinity in William’s Streetcar Named Desire.  Peggy Shaw performs the part of Stanley Kowalski, and members of the London based drag group Blue Lips accompany her.

There is also a great chapter about Split Britches called “Imagining, Making, Changing” in Performance Practice and Process: Contemporary [Women] Practitioners (2008) by Elaine Aston and Geraldine Harris.

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