Penny Arcade wants to tackle gentrification one cupcake at a time.EXPAND
Penny Arcade wants to tackle gentrification one cupcake at a time.
Courtesy of Miami Dade Live Arts Lab

Penny Arcade Longs for Old New York

Behold, the latest solo show from performer Penny Arcade, legendary avant-gardist and the mind behind shows like Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! and Old Queen. It’s called Longing Lasts Longer, and it will be in Miami from November 8 through 10.

Longing, Arcade explains, is a dynamic blend of stand-up comedy, political rant, and performance born out of her frustration with the changes in New York City, which she calls home. Back in the '70s, she says, the metropolis was about free love and revolutionary art. Its gentrification, she argues, has gone beyond replacing significant places like mom-and-pop stores with big moneymakers. It's also eroding individuality to give way to consumerism, celebrity culture, and plain group-mind thinking.

"New York now is a better idea than it is a place to live," Arcade says. "As this point in time, if you criticize the way the world is you are called nostalgic, but there's a difference between nostalgia and longing. I don't want to be who I was 40 years ago, but I'm not happy with some changes in the environment. People in the 1500s didn't expect fairness, justice, and individuality, but we in America do, and it's not available right now. I long for when America had integrity; when daily culture was part of our lives."

Born Susana Ventura in 1950 to Italian immigrants in Connecticut, Arcade ran away from home at 13 and graduated from reform school at 16. Before turning 20 she had already performed at the Playhouse of the Ridiculous in New York, been taken under artist Jackie Curtis' wing, and collaborated with Andy Warhol, who featured her in his film Women and Revolt. She recalls those years as a time when society questioned the essence of all ideas, including art; a time artists decided to sway from the commercial idea of art to explore new ways of engaging with audiences to achieve real change.

At 68, with five decades of experimental theater under her belt, Arcade is considered an icon of the counterculture era, a "queen of the underground" whose work is still designed to encourage discovery and inquiry. Longing is as much about making a connection with an audience as it is about self-expression, a "cultural criticism one can dance to," Arcade says, with a running soundtrack of 100 of the best tunes from the past decades, orchestrated by her longtime collaborator and dramaturge Steve Zehentner.

Penny Arcade Longs for Old New YorkEXPAND
Photo by Albie Mitchell

Arcade's monologues are never the same. She is essentially an improviser, tweaking her show during every performance based on a simple premise: Her thoughts matter.

"I don't do constant research. My material comes mostly from my intuition, what creeps into my sensibility on a day-to-day basis," she explains. "My show is about what I'm thinking. I offer a context provider, an alternate way to see things. People can situate themselves in my map and their map. I think very carefully about what I think about, and human beings are very similar. We vary in our economics, race, ethnicity, and access to education, but outside of that, we are exactly the same. I get onstage and I'm honest about what I think, what confuses me, what I worry about."

The show is part of this year's MDC Live Arts series, a season dedicated to representing the voices of women, immigrants, veterans, the young, and the outsiders. "My work is from the outsider's point of view, and I couldn't do this if I myself weren't one," Arcade says. "I'm a woman truth-teller. I get on the stage and tell the truth. And I do it with a sense of responsibility and obligation to the world, even if it affects my career."

Arcade is no stranger to Miami. She brought her show Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!, about sex and censorship, to the Colony Theater back in 1993. She can't say yet what this week's shows will focus on — maybe an exploration of why thinking is hard work and why so few people do it, she teases, or maybe the difference between men and women in scientific terms, or encroaching totalitarianism, spiritual evolution, or self-respect. Or maybe the city will inspire a whole new theme. "I want to go and look at what happened to South Beach, which I loved in the early '90s," she says. " I also want to see Coral Gables, grab a bite in Little Havana."

Arcade, who identifies herself as a bisexual and has been married three times, also has much to say about contemporary women, feminism, and the #MeToo movement, "What it means to be a woman right now? The same it has always meant, except it's a lot cloudier," she unleashes. "You are still not allowed to be a leader or outspoken. The failure of feminism is that women betray women. There is no support in this world from women or men for an independent woman. A woman who has her own way of doing things will be ostracized by other women."

Longing Lasts Longer. 8 p.m. Thursday, November 8, through Saturday, November 10, at the Miami Dade Live Arts Lab at the Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus, 300 NE Second Ave., Bldg. 1, Miami; 305-237-3010; mdclivearts.org. Tickets cost $30 via brownpapertickets.com.

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