James Ryan Gobuty
If you ask people where they would live during the 60s in America, the answer is usually split down the middle: either on the west coast with Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and The Doors, or on the east coast with The Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol’s factory – I decidedly fall on the side of Andy Warhol and had my dream come true with Andy Warhol Presents: Valerie.
Perhaps a little background is needed before exploring this playful fringe show, which focuses on two of the most intriguing figures in the art world of the 60s: Andy Warhol and Valerie Solanas. Andy Warhol was one of the founders of Pop-Art and one of the most important artists of the 20th century. During the 60s in New York, Warhol started up a studio space called “The Factory”, where Warhol and his every growing cadre of avant-garde artists would continue to push boundaries through their artistic work and legendary parties. One unlikely member of Warhol’s crew was the radical feminist author Valerie Solanas, who’s “Scum Manifesto” continues to be a radical inspiration for many to this day. Ultimately, the relationship between this unlikely duo would go sour, and Solanas would come into “The Factory” one day and shoot Warhol three times. It is this tumultuous history that gets crunched into one hour in Fail Better Theatre’s Andy Warhol Presents: Valerie.
This play is “site specific” in that it doesn’t take place in a traditional theatre setting. Instead, the audience is invited upstairs because “Andy is throwing a party!” As we shuffle up the stairs, we walk past a Kung Fu studio and then we enter “The Factory.” The room is cleverly covered in silver foil to emulate the famous aesthetic of Warhol’s studio of the time, and since the audience is at a “party” they are invited to mingle with the each other and the actors and play party games, all while wondering “when is Andy coming?” Eventually Andy (Ben Hayward) does arrive, and I must admit, pulls off one of the best Warhol impressions I’ve ever seen. The party continues, complete with snacks, games, and selfies (of course), until Valerie (Ali Richardson) arrives. It turns out that we’re at the book launch party that Andy is throwing for “The Scum Manifesto.” After some cruel ridicule by the factory dwellers, Valerie and the cast open into a cabaret style performance of “The Scum Manifesto.” As history dictates, Valerie does kill Andy, and he lives to tell the tale.
I must mention the amount of bravery it takes to perform a show as open to audience participation as this show is. Unlike something like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which has participation cues that a production team can work around, Andy Warhol Presents: Valerie opens itself up to a certain chaos that only strong performances can keep in line – something this team managed pull off perfectly. It is this reviewer’s opinion that it is exactly this take on theatre, and others like it, which will keep the medium from floundering into irrelevancy. Theatre that refuses to be safe, not only in its content, but also in its form, is a theatre that is teeming with life. You can’t be wildly successful if you don’t risk epic failure – a sentiment that seems to ring true to a production company that calls itself “Fail Better”. Kudos needs to be given to this team, not only for trying, but more impressively, for succeeding.
Andy Warhol Presents: Valerie is playing at The InfluxCreative Space, 141 Spadina Avenue, Toronto. The show is playing every night at 8pm until July 13 as well as a matinee at 1:30 on the 10th. Advanced tickets can be purchased for $12 at fringetoronto.com or at the site for $10. Advanced tickets are recommended as this show has very limited audience space.