Ryan Raftery Shares ’10 Things I Learned About Andy Warhol’ Ahead of His Brand-New Stage Show
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We live in a world overrun by social media feeds, where nothing really happens until it’s documented on Facebook, personal validation is measured in Instagram likes and ‘influencer status’ seems to be the goal of teens and adults alike. Who’s responsible for this occasionally enjoyable hellscape we call life in the 21st century? Well, at least in part, the guy’s name is Warhol. Maybe you’ve heard of him. And as goes the tagline of the upcoming stage show The Trial of Andy Warhol, from the “one-man musical juggernaut” of New York City’s Ryan Raftery, “Everyone wants to be famous. It’s his fault.”
Inspired by the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life and eye-opening documentary The Social Dilemma, Raftery’s latest celebrity biomusical comedy — his sixth! — takes on the most famous name in contemporary art.
Here’s the premise of Raftery’s show, which kicks off at NYC’s Joe’s Pub on Feb. 20:
Andy Warhol is dead and on trial in the afterlife for laying the foundation for social media culture, which has led to the veritable end of modern society as we all feverishly chase our own “fifteen minutes of fame.” Oh, and it’s a musical.
Among those who get “called to the stand” in Raftery’s show are Warhol superstar Edie Sedgewick (portrayed by Suzy Jane Hunt), longtime confidant Brigid Berlin (Jess Watkins) and collaborator Jean-Michel Basquiat (Devin Snow). A stern prosecutor determined to see Warhol convicted (Miranda Noelle Wilson) rounds out the cast.
A stageplay interspersed with live song parody interludes, Raftery’s story is told through the music of artists including Madonna, Blondie, Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Taylor Swift. Past show’s of Raftery’s (including those based on the lives of Anna Wintour, Andy Cohen, Martha Stewart, Calvin Klein and Ivanka Trump) have routinely been praised and sold-out coast to coast, and his latest is sure to be no exception.
“We live in a society where everyone wants to be famous,” Raftery tells Hornet. “Being known by strangers and amassing clicks and likes is the New American Dream, and once you start paying attention, you see Andy’s touch is absolutely everywhere in modern society. From sharing pictures of your avocado toast at breakfast on your Instagram feed to the election of a television personality to President of the United States, there is no denying that Andy Warhol’s cultural impact has only gotten stronger in the years since his death.”
Having worked tirelessly to bring this Andy Warhol stage show to life — work that required hours and hours of research on the art world/pop culture icon — Ryan Raftery could just be one of the most knowledgeable voices on Warhol’s life and cultural impact.
So we thought we’d ask Raftery to share the love, offering us a crash course in the man himself.
Here are 10 things Ryan Raftery learned while writing his upcoming stage show about Andy Warhol, the most well-known name in contemporary art:
1. Andy Warhol was never in the closet and lived life as an out gay man from the start. Andy moved to NYC at the start of the 1950s, a long time before Stonewall and still very much a time when gay men could be arrested (and lose their jobs) for being who they were.
2. Fellow pop artists (and boyfriends) Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg refused to socialize with Warhol because he was openly gay. Johns told him he was too “swish” and Warhol agreed, later commenting in his writings that this was “all too true and not something I thought I should want to hide.”
3. Warhol created portraits of people who were still living and who didn’t ask to be painted. This was something that was considered very strange when Warhol began experimenting with the silkscreening process. Up until that point, if a fine artist was doing a portrait, it was usually of a religious figure or wealthy/prominent person who commissioned the painting themselves. By Warhol choosing celebrities (whom he had never met, at that point) like Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, Elvis Presley and Elizabeth Taylor, he was effectively saying to the world … celebrities are our gods now.
4. He founded Interview magazine, which originally focused on underground film but quickly became a magazine where Warhol would ask celebrities to interview other celebrities, a format which exists to this day.
5. Warhol predicted social media influencer culture. In a program for his exhibition in Sweden in 1968, his most famous quote was first printed: “In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.” The phrase “15 minutes of fame” is derived from this and perfectly explains the ephemeral attention-seeking influencers of today.
6. Warhol grew up very, very poor, always thought he was ugly and was painfully shy. So it made perfect sense that he was really only interested in people who were either rich, beautiful or good talkers.
7. In his childhood and early adulthood, Warhol had two celebrity obsessions: Shirley Temple and Truman Capote. One of Warhol’s most prized possessions was a signed headshot Shirley Temple sent to him as a young boy in Pittsburgh, which he framed and kept for his entire life. After he moved to New York, Warhol found out where Capote lived and wrote him so many letters and called his home so many times that the writer’s mother (who lived with him) politely asked him to stop. Years later, the two became friends as fixtures at Studio 54, and Warhol painted his portrait.
8. Warhol was rarely seen without a camera, and often carried a tape recorder to parties to record conversations. He also kept a faithful, daily diary of his work and social life starting in the ’70s. Many see this as the foundation for social media culture, as we all over-document our lives for public consumption via Instagram and Twitter.
9. Warhol died by accident. After routine gall bladder surgery in February 1987, a lazy orderly failed to check his vitals overnight and over-administered fluid in his IV, causing a heart attack.
10. A lifelong hoarder, only two rooms in his townhouse were habitable at the time of his death, the kitchen and his bedroom. Every other room was filled from floor to ceiling with ephemera that would be auctioned months later at Sotheby’s, bringing in a record-shattering $30 million.
Ryan Raftery’s The Trial of Andy Warhol takes over Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater in New York City for eight performances only, starting Feb. 20. Get your tickets now at JoesPub.com.
Photos of Ryan Raftery as Andy Warhol by Brendan Burke