Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Les Wade


"I Am Contemporary!": The Life and Times of Penny Arcade explores the career of performance artist Susana Ventura, a.k.a. Penny Arcade, and establishes her position in the American post-war avant-garde and counter-culture performance scene. The document is chronological, examining first Ventura's fifties childhood, moving toward her rebellious sixties, through her introspective seventies, and eventually into a performance career in the New York avant-garde scene of the eighties and nineties. Each main chapter explores three elements of these time periods, first establishing the social background, then moving to an overview of counter-cultural performance, and finally examining Ventura's work within that time frame. Susana Ventura, born in New Britain, CT in 1950, has been part of some of the most important avant-garde companies and movements of the post-war era, including Warhol's Factory and John Vaccaro's Play-House of the Ridiculous. Her work includes Warhol's film Women in Revolt, Heaven Grand in Amber Orbit with the Play-House, The Maine Festival with regional New England performers Tim Sample and Marshall Dodge, and a substantial body of solo efforts. These solo works include While You Were Out, Bid for the Big Time, her newest work Sex, Love and Sanity, and her emblematic piece, Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!, which ran for a year in New York and has been performed at festivals on three continents. The study argues each of the aforementioned pieces, as well as most of Ventura's other work, falls within accepted definitions of performance art by using monologic character work, dance, video, live and recorded music, and direct address as primary elements. The study recognizes Ventura's recurring themes as sexuality, censorship, politics, the AIDS crisis, and the position of the "other" in American society, finally arguing her aesthetic is uniquely centered in post-war American counter-culture. The study makes its case by examining videotapes and texts of Ventura's work, interviews with her counter-culture peers, and reviews and criticism. The document emphasizes Ventura's effort to establish a political place for the voice of the "other," and her continuing emphasis on notions of transformation, inclusion, and human commonality in her creative endeavors.