THE PLAYHOUSE OF THE RIDICULOUS,
Penny Arcade is an absolute New Yorker widely recognized for her contributions to performance art and Downtown culture.
At 17 years old, Penny joined John Vaccaro’s Playhouse of the Ridiculous theater troupe and made an immediate impression on the alternative art crowd including Andy Warhol. She was featured in his movie Women in Revolt, and he called her “my latest superstar.”
Penny’s life is colored by her history of activism. As a teenager, again, she was a Yippie (The Youth International Party) and a member of Up Against The Wall Motherfuckers, a radical Lower East Side anarchist group.
In the early 1990s, Penny caught her break. She wrote four full-length shows and toured the world with her autobiographical performance art. This is Penny’s signature genre. She calls it as it is with humorous and brash takes on what matters most.
Penny Arcade has been an AIDS activist since the beginning.
“My propensity for intellectuality was scorned in my town but encouraged among the nuns who taught me, and that formed the basis of my life-long inquiry.
My work has always focused on supporting individuality, coalition, community building, tolerance and inclusion. Therefore, in supporting individuals, I think, I have supported the social change many of us want in a myriad of directions I would be unable to participate in on my own.
I didn’t start out thinking of myself as an ‘Underground Artist.’ I was a young person who found themselves in an experimental mileur at an avante-garde moment in art in 1968. At one time in history, the 1920s through the 1960s, the avant-garde was connected to the mainstream entertainment world. There had been the possibility to create work at the frontiers of art that would be recognized for excellence and get a wider audience—I think the flooding of people into the alternative art scene after the 70’s made that less possible. Let’s face it, one can make really mediocre work and still be considered an artist in the not for profit world.
The prophet is always welcomed outside their homeland. Since my work has always critiqued American politics and culture, I have been widely welcomed outside of America by people who would ignore their own artists who offer cultural critique. Europe has always had a smarter and broader public dialogue so my ideas sound fresh and not as radical as they seem in the USA. I was greeted very warmly in Europe, particularly Britain, Austria and Germany, Australia, Mexico and Brazil. All of these countries do not equate investigation of cultural and political ideas with treason as America tends to.
History teaches us what we can use in the present. Not everyone needs art in their life but for those of us who do it is important like water. We are living in an age of cultural amnesia, the erasure of history and the death of language. Don’t be a killer. Try to get an understanding of the values that are being sold to you and make sure you truly agree with them before being absorbed by them. Resist the impulse to be an expert. Be a beginner. Be young. Embrace being a young person, and make observation your most hallowed practice. Try everything that interests you no matter how unlikely. Be open to learning. Respect your own development. Try to learn from everyone you meet. Remember this: When you are old you end up with what you gave other people not what you got from them.”