Penny Arcade, the former Andy Warhol Factory Superstar talks about her experiences growing up, changing her name to Penny Arcade, modern gays and more
Former Andy Warhol Factory Superstar, Penny Arcade was named by the late Quentin Crisp as his soulmate and the woman he most identified with. The undisputed queen of New York’s queer undeground, she has written and starred in over ten razor-sharp satirical shows, including the acclaimed Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!, which has been performed in over 30 cities around the world. Together with artists like Philip Glass, Fran Lebowitz and Edmund White, The New York Times cited her among the artists and thinkers that de ne New York city. She comes to the Tiger Dublin Fringe this month with her new hit show, Longing Lasts Longer.
I was a magical child. I had imaginary friends that were fairies and I was very drawn to rough patches of nature as one finds in factory towns. I’ve had a lifelong search for beauty.
As a young teenager I got put away. When the judge asked me what my crime was, I said ‘no’. She said, ‘manifesting the dangers of falling into the hands of vice’. I was sent to the Sacred Heart Academy for Wayward Girls, which was run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.
Coming from a background where the fact that I read books was seen as an aberration, being put away with the nuns was a relief.
I wrote my first play there. When I got out and went home, I could never fit in again.
…becoming Penny Arcade
At the age of 16 I was on the streets in
New York, and I was taken in by a 27 year- old gay man called Jaime Andrews. One morning I was coming down from an LSD trip and I said, ‘Oh Jaime, I’ve changed my name to Penny Arcade.’ He said, ‘That’s fabulous darling, do you want an egg?’
…the Playhouse of the Ridiculous
There were only two games in town, one was Warhol and the other was the Playhouse of the Ridiculous, which was the original queer theatre of the ’60s. Jaime was part of the Playhouse, and when I turned 17 he took me there. I began performing and that’s where Andy Warhol saw me first.
Andy he wanted to work with people who were real performers, but were still freaks, as opposed to dealing with people who were just insane narcissists. Andy, being a child of the 30s, believed he was going to make his fortune with movies. That’s why he wanted me. I found it all pretty tedious.
I think Andy was very interesting in a lot of ways, but making narrative films was not his forte.
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The gay world is not what it once was.
It’s very conventional. Gay people only go to see things that you have to be a card-carrying homo to get into.
It’s got to be some social justice issue concerning somebody who’s queer – it’s not the gay world that I came of age in.
Quentin was despised because he was a humanist. He didn’t identify as being a queer, he identified as being human.
We weren’t fighting for gay rights, we were fighting for human rights, and that’s a hard thing to explain to people who came out while their mother was watching Queer as Folk.
All the queer heroes who are dead and gone would be rejected by today’s younger queers, because they were all people who honed their point of view at the edges of society.
We’re living in a world that hates individuality. It’s heartbreaking.
There are young people in New York who drive me crazy. It’s so politically correct; it’s endless and annoying. I don’t want to be told what to say, what words I can use, or what I should think.
After the Orlando shootings suddenly some of these people started publishing things and calling themselves radical queers, but to be a radical anything means you have to be outside the consensus.
You can’t need approval. You can’t call yourself fierce and ask for safe space in the same sentence.
We’re living in the golden age of stupidity, and while queers have taken up all their time with identity politics, and the biggest issue they see in the world is pronouns, there has been an unrelenting march to the right that they’re completely unaware of.
It’s going to come and bite them in the ass. At the end of the day those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
Anytime you try to say what you see in the world, you’re told you’re nostalgic.
‘Oh Penny, the world is always changing – you’re just bitter because you’re old’.
But I have a point of view that I have developed over 50 years and I never grew up in the way that you’re supposed to grow up. I’ve always remained outside of society. I’m not encoded and I’m not brainwashed.
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