excerpt from a work-in-progress performance
Steve Zehentner: Stage Design, Co-direction, Sound score, Video edit
Old Queen. The two most dreaded words in gay male culture! But was it always this way? "Not so," says Penny Arcade who, as a teenager, knocked around in gay bars in Hartford, Connecticut, Providence, Rhode Island, Boston, and Provincetown and finally at just past 16, washed up on the shores of Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side.
Penny sought refuge and enlightenment in the gay bars and gay coffee shops from the early 1960's, the fomenting place of modern culture where the ridiculous met the sublime, where criminality forged with intellectual innovation, where low art met high art, and where the outsider status of homosexuality was a breeding ground for unique world views. Presiding over these palaces of the synthesis of culture were the old queens.
Says Arcade, "When I was 13, 14, 15, 16... my goal every night was to get to sit at the table with the old queens. A difficult invitation to get for a teenage girl. But the old queens knew everything I wanted to know and for them conversation was more than an art, it was the existential nectar that gave form to the power of the word. The old queens knew everything about life and travel, the human condition, about the world, this one and others and I craved their company. They did not tolerate banality nor mediocrity and theirs was a fierce and unapologetic intelligence and wit. Just sitting at a table of old queens in a dark bar or fluorescent coffee shop, lifted your IQ twenty points! Unbeknownst to me, I was on a trajectory to become an old queen. And I am, finally, an old queen... but in a world that has no understanding of the value of old queens."
Penny Arcade: A runaway at thirteen, a reform-school graduate at sixteen, a performer in the legendary New York City Play-House of the Ridiculous at seventeen, and an escapee from Andy Warhol’s Factory scene at nineteen, Penny Arcade emerged in the 1980s as a primal force on the New York art scene and an originator of what came to be called performance art. Arcade’s brand of high camp and street-smart, punk-rock cabaret showmanship has been winning over international audiences ever since.
Penny Arcade is the author of ten full length performance pieces including the mainstream hit Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! Her work been presented in venues as celebrated as the Sydney Opera House and as sordid as New York’s Pyramid Club.
With long-time collaborator Steve Zehentner, Arcade is the co-producer of The Lower East Side Biography Project, a video oral history project. Her first book, Bad Reputation, was published by Semiotexte/MIT, and she was portrayed by Sex in the City actress Cynthia Nixon in the film, Englishman in New York, the biopic about her friend Quentin Crisp. www.pennyarcade.tv
If there is an underlying thematic in all of Arcade’s work, it is perhaps this concern to advocate the full expression of our “life force”—creative, sexual, physically and verbally expressive—and to speak out against those societal and political forces that would repress such energizing self-realization. – Stephen Bottoms, University of Leeds, U.K.