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March 5, 2021

Interview with Penny Arcade, New York’s undisputed queen of the underground

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Entertainment in the Byron Shire and beyond for the week beginning 3 March, 2021

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Penny Arcade at Brunswick Picture House

A Faghag and Her Friends

Brunswick Picture House | Friday & Saturday | 7pm | $40/45

Penny Arcade is New York’s undisputed queen of the underground and the grande dame of downtown performance art. Hot on the heels of her Adelaide Fringe sensational revival of Penny Arcade’s infamous sex and censorship show Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!, Penny returns to Brunswick Picture House after her sellout appearance in 2016 for an exclusive showing of her newest work, The Faghag and Her Friends in the Summer of Love.

How would you define the term Faghag? Why do you think it has had negative connotations? How do you embrace and reclaim it?

A faghag is a woman who resonates with gay male culture.

Faghags are among all strata of society. The Queen Mother was a faghag as was Princess Diana! The negative connotations are the same as the negative connotations that attach to any stereotypes about women. Certainly one of the negatives would be that there were certain women who tried to turn the natural attraction between faghags and gay men into a romantic one, and there is the issue with faghags preferring the company of gay men to heterosexual men. I reclaimed the term as a teenager, which you will see in The Faghag and Her Friends!

If New York were a lover, how would you describe him/her/them?

New York is like an old courtesan or like an old whore, because NY is a woman.

Sophisticated, decisive, irritable, impatient, larger than life, with a brutal wit and a deep understanding of the human condition, with no patience for bullshit or artifice.

What was pre-AIDS New York like? It must have been wild!

NY pre-AIDS, and by that we mean the 1970s, was a carnival of licentious behaviour, nightlife that could not be contained by the night but started at 4pm and lasted till 8am.

NY pulsated with a million characters out of central casting. It was life teeming on the streets, from psychotics with axes at bus stops to ancient chorus girls sunning themselves on benches on the streets. It was 20 distinct neighbourhoods with their own personalities, foods, and attractions. It was a tilt-a-whirl of possibilities. Magic. Sordid. Exciting.

How did AIDs impact on your life and change the way you and your friends lived? Do you think generations now are aware of how that affected people?

AIDS came as a sudden deluge of sorrow, fear, and emptiness. We lost the bravest, most sophisticated, and visionary generations of people because hardest hit were people at the top of lives in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. We lost our most accomplished. We lost history just as Pompeii lay buried in a single afternoon.

AIDS disappeared 3–4 generations of people. From teenagers to older people in their 60s to 70s and from all walks of society. The closest experience would have been the tragic losses of World War I.

What does it mean to be a revolutionary thinker? How do you practise that in your everyday?

One doesn’t choose to become a revolutionary thinker. One’s life and experiences located you outside of the mainstream because the observation of human life and its limitations can only be clearly seen from the periphery. So one observes as one has always done, and perhaps guided by compassion, that grows slowly in the heart of the outsider; you realise you have something to contribute, which makes you a participant.

Are you becoming more dangerous, do you think, as you age? You climbed out of a window at 13 to live in the streets of NY. Do you think it’s important to keep climbing out of windows?

It is not I who think I am dangerous! It is the society that appropriates authenticity, rebellion, and individuality, and fears those who carry history, and who live their hard-won individuality and authenticity. Mediocrity is a choice people make every day. It is a question of not losing your nerve to be open, vulnerable, and intuitive.

Tell me a little about The Faghag and Her Friends in the Summer of Love.

The Faghag and Her Friends is the story of an outsider culture steeped in rock’n’roll and queer life. It is about the making of a culture and a society that was once underground yet became influential to everyone everywhere.

What should we expect at the Brunswick Picture House?

Brunswick Picture House is where I experienced the smartest, coolest, most intelligent, and hippest audience of people aged 20s to 70s of my entire career bar none – including NYC!

I am very grateful to get to spend time entertaining THAT audience again!

Friday and Saturday at the Brunswick Picture House at 7pm.

Tix are $40/45 at brunswickpicturehouse.com.au.


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