Leo 2°

Fittingly that night Penny Arcade took to the stage with her show Longing Lasts Longer which is a continual rant on the evils of gentrification and the rise of millenials. She is a true poet and I love this piece. The show was not a big seller but an entire cast of millenials from the main-stage musical American Repertory theater was rehearsing, were brought in to fill the mezzanine, making the show feel full. Which is a good thing because Penny is a visceral performer who draws on the energy of her audience. She is already on the floor mic in hand as you arrive, speaking to people and warming them and herself up. She probably has some key topics in her back pocket for this pre-show presentation; but she also directly converses with the audience trundling in, making comments, asking questions, and answering them before taking the stage for the show proper.

Penny inspires mixed feelings personally; but professionally she is the best babysitter ever; and I have been a fan of hers since moving to New York City in the late mid eighties when we first saw her show Bitch Dyke Faghag Whore the title of which is easy to remember once you realize each word follows alphabetically. She was a black leather clad corset wearing thigh high boot black hair and bangs dominatrix looking character back thirty years for that show, something which she still performs and probably will continue to perform knowing Penny. For this show, Longing Lasts Longer, which I’ve seen many times as we really had a hand in developing it at Afterglow in Ptown, she has had red, pink and, lately, white-blond hair (which given her lighting choices ends up all three colors anyway). As a performer she is totally reliable, not just in terms of her professionalism but also in that her stage persona is so knowing and spot-on and observant and speaks to things we have often thought. She mentions this one thing about walking down the street in New York: that we who have/had lived there for years know how to “dip” that is to say adjust for other people passing, from the front or rear, on the sidewalk. “As New Yorkers, we dip.” And how that mechanism was lost with “Sex and the City” which gave younger people coming up the impression, the misapprehension, that they could walk down the street four abreast. It’s a funny notion. And one that inspires trust not just in the artist but in the thinking creative person who makes that part of ones performance.

But Penny’s not fully like that in life. Well, she is half the time. But she also tends to act the diva in life when her persona on the stage would have you believe that she is anathema to such antics from an artist or a celebrity. Her stage character would have you believe she abhors fame, celebrities; and yet she acts more like a famous person than most people/performers I know, more than suggesting (again half the time) when you send her an email that you should be talking to her people (one person really, her producer) not her, that she’s too important. I hate that shit. And I don’t really take it from her, just as I don’t take it from Lady Bunny or anybody who is wont to play that game; and yet I’ve learned to say nothing, just to ignore it, hoping that behavior will fall away by its own weight, which I personally measure in eye rolls.

But some artists seem to need that kind of thing. And, in Penny’s case, anyway, the good far outweighs the bad. And she is one of the only artists I know who has made any effort to see our shows and to appreciate them (in every sense of the word). But it’s boring. And if there were to be a devolution in my opting to do this kind of thing—playing the “impressario”—certain behaviors on the part of artists that fall into the category of divadom will certainly have been a contributor.

But, push comes to shove, I’d be a liar if I didn’t say I love Penny. And that I even find her she-doth-protest-too-much stance not only on issues like gentriciation but also on her own status in the world as an artist versus entertainer, well, I find it funny and somewhat heartwarming. She can’t help but let you know she’s more this than Patti Smith or more that than Andy Warhol; she needs you to know she has a high opinion of herself and I respect that. But you can’t help tasting a little bit of sourgrapes in all of it. As if she should have been more famous than other people who are household names even as she attacks the notion of fame as a sickness from whence or civilization, or lack thereof, suffers.


Typos happen—I don’t have time or an intern to edit.*

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