Books: Penny Arcade’s “Bad Reputation: Performances, Essays, Interviews”

A runaway at thirteen, a reform-school graduate at sixteen, a performer in the legendary New York City Playhouse of the Ridiculous at seventeen, and an escapee from Andy Warhol’s Factory scene at nineteen, Penny Arcade (born Susana Ventura) emerged in the 1980s as a primal force on the New York art scene and participant of what came to be called performance art. This autobiographical trilogy of plays represents her at her best.

Bitch!Dyke!Faghag!Whore! is Penny Arcade’s raucous sex and censorship show (which continues to tour around the world), featuring the daily life of a receptionist in a brothel, the upbringing and rearing of a “faghag,” the evolution of the New York gay scene in the 1990s, and a participatory “audience dance break.” The title work, Bad Reputation, portrays a young teen runaway’s coming of age in a Catholic reform school (run by nuns who are former fashion models) and her subsequent life on the streets of 1960s New York. La Miseria, a rare depiction of working-class Italian-Americans from a woman’s point of view that portrays the clash between working-class morals and compassion during the 1980s AIDS epidemic, rounds out the trilogy.

[amazonify]1584350695[/amazonify]Bad Reputation is the first book by and on Penny Arcade. The complete scripts are accompanied by a new interview with Penny Arcade by Chris Kraus, a range of archival photographs of the East Village scene and Arcade’s performances, an introduction by playwright Ken Bernard, and contributions by Sarah Schulman, Steve Zehentner, and Stephen Bottoms.

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About the Author

Born Susana Carmen Ventura to an immigrant Italian family in the small factory town of New Britain, Connecticut, she became Penny Arcade at age 17 while on LSD in an effort to amuse her mentor and patron, openly gay photographer/artist Jaimie Andrews. It was Andrews, a member of The Playhouse of the Ridiculous, who introduced the young Arcade to legendary director John Vaccaro. Vaccaro, then directing Kenneth Bernard’s potent play The Moke Eater, subsequently gave Penny her theatrical debut in the groundbreaking production. Soon after, Arcade became a teenage superstar for Andy Warhol’s Factory with a featured role in the Morrissey/Warhol film Women In Revolt but quickly found the life of an upcoming pop tart too one dimensional and fled to Amsterdam.

In 1980, La Mama’s Ellen Stewert and Vaccaro invited her to recreate her 1970 New York role in Ken Bernard’s play Nite Club. She returned to New York after nearly a decade of abroad to resume her apprenticeship with many of the greats of American experimental theatre including Jack Smith, Jackie Curtis and Charles Ludlam. In 1985 Arcade began creating her own improvisational and unscripted solo work. In 1989 she began to create group work, beginning with her commission from Engarde Arts for whom she created A Quiet Night for Sid and Nancy at the Chelsea Hotel.

1990-91 was a prolific period for Arcade during which she wrote four full length shows, including the core of her autobiographical trilogy; Based on A True Story, Invitation to The Beginning Of The End Of The World and La Miseria. It was also in 1990 that she created her most famous work, her sex and censorship show, BITCH!DYKE!FAGHAG!WHORE! A blend of political humanism, freedom of expression and erotic dancing, BITCH!DYKE!FAGHAG!WHORE! toured the world twice both as an international festival as well as a commercial hit in 20 cities around the world.

In the time since BITCH!DYKE!FAGHAG!WHORE! Penny has seen Bad Reputation her all girl show (with a few gay men who wanted their own dance number!) premiere in NYC at Performance Space 122 in March of 1999 and later in Manchester, England, and Glasgow Scotland. Her New York Values – an autopsy on the death of Bohemia and the commodification of rebellion – also had its premiere at PS 122 in spring of 2002 as a group show and has been performed as a solo show in Los Angeles, Austin, Frankfurt, Heldelberg and the Royal Festival Hall in London.

Since 1999 Penny has spearheaded the award winning documentary series Stemming The Tide of Cultural Amnesia, The Lower Eastside Biography Project, an oral history and downtown performance project cum training program sponsored in part by Manhattan Neighborhood Network. She is a member of Feminists for Free Expression, The National Coalition Against Censorship, Visual Aids, and the artist/art professional caucus that produces Day Without Art each December 1 st. In addition, she is a founding member of FEVA (Federation of East Village Artists) the producer of The Howl! Festival of the Arts. (from the official website)

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