Penny Arcade Talks with Gabriel Don

Penny Arcade, performance artist, Andy Warhol superstar, writer, poet, experimental theater maker, activist and Lower East Side resident speaks with Gabriel Don.

Gabriel Don: You left home and moved to New York at fourteen years old, could you describe the city that you arrived in and the people you met?
Penny Arcade: I came to NYC at 16 NYC was a magical urban kingdom that was broken down into neighborhoods which were each distinct even if they were 1/8 of mile from each other. The energy of NYC has always emanated from the granite ignite it is built on. Life in NY then was 80% on the street and extraordinary rush of humanity, downtown was on a European scale and NY was largely still the most European city in the USA.  It was and remains a city of possibility in the sense that ‘anything’ might happen and you might meet the most amazing people.That said NY has been ‘colonized” by big corporations, Oligarchs and the free market capitalist takeover of real estate making it impossible for most younger people to live here.

Photo credit: Tamara Don


Gabriel: How would you define performance art?
Penny: I define Performance Art as a Live Action Art. To my mind performance art exists only while it is being performed anything that remains is document. This way it differs from theater which is rehearsed and therefore  ‘set” I connect with performance as connected to action forms like performance poetry and action painting.


Gabriel: Social activism seems to underline all of your artistic practices, using humour and satire you explore serious concerns on stage, in film and on the page, what do you think are the big issues facing us now and how can we create positive change.
Penny: That is a big question. I do not believe that we can change the world but I do believe that we can change the world around us. We live in a medicated society, drugged by computer games, shopping, TV,  sex and social media. our lives are a blur of frenetic activity causing us to lose our humanity . There are so many huge issues crushing us Climate Change with a response that is woefully inadequate, Economic inequality, the loss of privacy and citizen rights, Women’s reproductive rights, The dumbing down of The American Education System, The Prison Industrial Complex, GMO food and complete lack of transparency in marketing of these foods, Endless War Abroad and INJUSTICE at home! To create change we have to be AWAKE and understand that our quality of life is connected irrefutably to the quality of life for others then we work for change because it benefits US.


Gabriel: What is a muse?
Penny: The muse functions as a catalyst for creative acts.


Gabriel: What advice do you have for people who want to be performers, poets and artists?
Penny: Artists need time not money. Move to a place where you have time to develop your craft. No point living in NY if you have to work three jobs to pay your rent. Doesn’t leave a lot of time to make art. Your 20’s are the period of the greatest freedom you will have as an adult, the least responsibilities, the strongest most robust health. Your 20’s are the period for experimentation. Be a beginner… don’t fall for the ‘Be an expert’ in your 20’s trap.Be free to NOT KNOW but make LEARNING your priority. Being an artist  (no matter in what metier you choose) is a vocation NOT a profession. Don’t be taken in by the idea propagated by art schools and university that this degree for which you are paying the same amount  for as a law student is going to be an instant pay back when you graduate. Be prepared to have a trade that you can earn money from. Respect your own developmental arc. Don’t compare your career to other peoples. Without true ARTISTIC success every other kind of success in ones art career is second-rate. Get some high standards to measure up to. The harder the better. Then work hard.


Gabriel: What are your current projects?
Penny: Longing Lasts Longer is a new work in progress. Currently it’s form is as a nightclub work solo with elaborate soundtrack but no video. My collaborator Steve Zehentner and I want to bring it to development as a full multimedia theater piece. We also have Old Queen to develop and a very new piece I am just starting on  Seduced & Abandoned.  We also continue to work on our long running video project, Stemming The Tide Of Cultural Amnesia The Lower East Side Biography Project, co-helmed by Steve Zehentner. We have broadcast and cybercast weekly for 15 years. I am also inching towards writing a memoir.


Gabriel: Could you share a favorite line from a poem?
Penny: “Hold me the forgotten way.” – Rene Ricard


Gabriel: What does a unicorn represent to you?
Penny: Always I think of the Unicorn Tapestry in The Cloisters in NYC which was traditionally a must for new seekers arriving in NY.


Gabriel: How are women positioned within the creative industries?
Penny: Women are poorly positioned in all industries. I do not believe that there is a difference in the work of female and male artists. It is all just work. But like all work women are underpaid, underrepresented and consistently undermined by stereotyping. It is the same problem in all fields of endeavor.