My Interview with Penny Arcade


When I moved to New York, Penny Arcade OWNED performance art. Her smash show Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!, her in-your-face response to Jesse Helms and the conservatives who de-funded the NEA 4 (and then the rest of the NEA) ran forever…in fact it’s pretty much still running…she still books it and performs it internationally.

But she’s still creating new work, too. Her new work-in-progress Longing Lasts Longer will be at Joe’s Pub from May 18 through June 8. The new show’s themes will not be a shock to those who follow her on social media…she’s been airing these ideas for months now. And I’m with this lady all the way. Not just because she’s such a radical individualist, or such a clear and articulate thinker, or such a combative truth-teller. Well, yes because of all of those. But mostly because she is right. And one thing needs to be made clear. Young people need to know that this isn’t about a bunch of fogeys bemoaning the old days. As Penny says, change is constant, particularly in New York. What’s alarming is that the particular change she is talking about is seismic and UNPRECEDENTED. This isn’t about ongoing change, or the old lament of “this city’s going to hell in a handbasket”. It’s that over the past 20 years a cultural revolution (more accurately, a counter-revolution) has happened in this city (and really, all cities). Thanks largely to the internet I think there has been a cultural flattening out. Cities were once meccas where you necessarily had to go (i.e., physically go, move to) in order to be exposed to a certain kind of cultural richness and sophistication. If people wanted a different kind of life, a quieter more vanilla kind of life, they would move to the suburbs. Now for the first time in history, that is not the case. People are moving here from the suburbs and bringing the suburbs (including their 7-11s and Applebees) with them. From a cultural perspective it’s the opposite of gentrification, it’s a mediocrification. But anyway, I’ll let her do the talking.

We talked a LOT for the Villager interview which just hit the stands. In fact, I had to cut a lot of what we talked about. Penny (like her contemporary Karen Finley) was an important precursor to what became the “burlesque movement”. Her performance art featured lots of nudity and erotic dancing. It was a lot dirtier and more political than the classic striptease revival. But her work is what came just before Julie Atlas Muz, World Famous Bob and Dirty Martini, and was one of the forces that conditioned theatre audiences to be open to the frank presentation of the human body onstage. We talked a bit about that, as well as her longtime working relationship with her director, Steve Zehenter, and her insistence and stress on her show as entertainment. This was good stuff, but we had to keep the published piece focused and to a certain word count. I may be posting the excerpts though in the next few days because the woman is just too brilliant, and, what is more important, a hot pistol.

The Villager interview is here:

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