Fringe review: Penny Arcade – Superstar Interrupted

Adelaide Fringe 2023 Ambassador Penny Arcade – an icon of Andy Warhol’s Factory crew – tells it like she lived it in a ‘memoir show’ at new city-centre venue The Pyramid. ★★★★

Feb 16, 2023, updated Feb 16, 2023
Penny Arcade in the 1960s – her latest Fringe show is part of an evolving memoir series. Photo: Laura Rubin

Penny Arcade in the 1960s – her latest Fringe show is part of an evolving memoir series. Photo: Laura Rubin

In what she refers to as, “Of course! A memoir show!”, performer Penny Arcade treats her audience to rhythmic and wild re-tellings of improv art and improv life during the late 1960s and ’70s.

Born Susana Carmen Ventura in 1950 Connecticut, she re-named herself during an LSD trip with David Bowie’s tour manager Jamie Andrews, and the rest is a history so accessible you can listen to it at Fringe in The Art of Becoming: Episode 3 – 1967-1974: “Superstar Interrupted”, which is actually part of an evolving series.

Naturally animated and unapologetic, Arcade draws on a gold mine of personal memories for her material. She’ll tell you about being in an elevator with Patti Smith “before she was famous”. And the way Jane Fonda snaked her arms as the two of them danced on plastic plinths at a nightclub.

She also recounts her great friend, the British raconteur Quentin Crisp, saying: “The older you get, the more out of context you become” – something the 72-year-old avant-garde artist reflects on throughout her show.

“In your late 60s,” Arcade says, “you stop being your story and you become a character in your own story,” meaning this is the time in her career – and in her life – to pass on the truth of her rowdy days and the sensational times.

Penny Arcade in the Warhol film Women in Revolt.

In a mix of storytelling behind a podium, spoken-word voice and body movement, and just a few of her original country-like songs, Arcade talks about Andy Warhol and his studio The Factory, the Velvet Underground and Max’s Kansas City nightclub in New York, and “all those dead friends who are in here [in the Pyramid] and they all want the same thing: publicity”.

Their famous faces were on the enormous screen behind the stage when audience members walked into the venue – Warhol, Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe and Graves… the rock stars, artists and poets Arcade mentions in her underground celebrity anecdotes. But once the show starts, the photos stop, which means the enormous screen behind the stage goes blank. There’s no image of Valerie Solanas as Arcade talks about the woman who shot Andy Warhol; no image of Jackie Curtis when she speaks of the trash-glamour drag-queen fashioning of Warhol’s superstar actress; no image of the woman who raised Curtis, the barkeep nicknamed Slugger Ann.

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Arcade has an exuberant presence and her words have an intoxicating cadence, but visuals go a long way in experimental performance.

Her musical collaborator of more than 30 years, Steve Zehentner, adds the atmosphere-building music to the night, so there’s extra urgency and drama behind Arcade’s tales, and to set the times there’s some Rolling Stones, some Eric Burdon and, of course, some Velvet Underground. If that sounds like the soundtrack of your youth, this may be the show for you: a true night of nostalgia for the ’60s and ’70s you probably didn’t live.

Even if your soundtrack came 20 years later, this still may be the show for you: a true night of nostalgia for the ’60s and ’70s you could only dream of living.

Penny Arcade: The Art of Becoming Episode 3: “Superstar Interrupted” is at The Pyramid @ Fool’s Paradise until February 28 as part of Adelaide Fringe, which opens this week.

Penny Arcade and other Fringe ambassadors shared their thoughts on the festival’s evolution in this recent InReview feature. Read more 2023 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews on InReview here.

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