How a Theater Company Dramatized the Life of Andy Warhol for a Bold New Production Playing Out on the Streets of New York

The play takes audiences on a rollicking tour of Andy Warhol's old stomping grounds.

Brandon P. Raines and Katherine Winter from the cast of Chasing Andy Warhol by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Jenny Anderson.
Brandon P. Raines and Katherine Winter from the cast of Chasing Andy Warhol by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Thirty-five years after his death, Andy Warhol remains a household name, inspiring everything from Super Bowl commercials to a Netflix documentary series.

But despite his undeniable fame, the Pop art great still remains something of an enigma, both inescapable and unknowable—an unnerving quality that inspires director Mara Lieberman’s new play, Chasing Andy Warhol, which takes theatergoers on a madcap tour across the East Village in pursuit of the artist.

Blurring the lines between a walking tour and the theater, Chasing Andy Warhol sets off from New York’s Astor Place Cube, with actors lying in wait with carefully positioned props. All throughout, a bewigged Warhol consistently eludes the audience and the play’s “tour guide,” an eager art history grad student who sees meeting the artist as the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

“In many ways, I’m the tour guide,” Lieberman told Artnet News, likening the character’s growing vexation with Warhol’s refusal to be pinned down to her own struggles to understand the man and his motivations while writing the play.

“Andy was creating art at every moment. A lot of people who interviewed him felt frustrated by his refusal to answer questions, and that’s kind of what the play centers on,” Lieberman said. “Researching him, I came to realize this was part of his schtick. If you lust for something, and it continues to run from you, the allure of the chase becomes a fueling factor. His m.o. was to confuse—smoke and mirrors, you’re never going to catch me.”

Brandon P. Raines from the cast of <em>Chasing Andy Warhol</em> by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Brandon P. Raines from the cast of Chasing Andy Warhol by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

The play maintains a sense of mystery about Warhol, presenting vignettes from his life and career before the cast flits off to a new location, leaving audience members scrambling to catch up—and to put together the pieces.

“This is probably not the play that I set out to make, but because of my relationship to the material and to Andy, this is the play it became,” Lieberman said.

Adding to the confusion are moments where the streets are suddenly overrun with multiple Warhols.

“It’s like Andy Warhol is everywhere,” Lieberman said. “I think it’s a mistake to try to imitate Andy Warhol. But I loved the idea of having duplicates. If you look at his art and the screenprinting technique, it’s all about the replication and mass production.”

As it moves through the city, the performance tends to draw in crowds of curious onlookers, who are encouraged to tag along as long as the action remains on the streets.

“Sometimes there will be 60 or 70 people following the show,” Lieberman said.

Brandon P. Raines, Jake Malavsky, and Kyle Starling from the cast of <em>Chasing Andy Warhol</em> by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Brandon P. Raines, Jake Malavsky, and Kyle Starling from the cast of Chasing Andy Warhol by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

She hopes the play appeals both to avid Warhol fans, as well as those with a more surface-level relationship to his work, who couldn’t tell you much about him other than the Campbell’s Soup works.

“The scenes are abstract, but I don’t like it when things are so obscure that nothing resonates. We leave a breadcrumb trail so you can enter this story and understand the complexities that contributed to who Andy was as a person,” Lieberman said.

That includes the production’s creative takes on classic Warhol artworks, like a trio of screenprint-style portraits of Edie Sedgwick, dramatically unveiled on a chainlink fence before the Factory star’s death by overdose.

Later, doctors in Marilyn Monroe masks perform life-saving surgery, Operation board-game style, to remove artworks from the artist’s bullet-ridden chest after Valerie Solanas shoots him in a near-fatal attack.

Jmonet Hill, Brandon P. Raines, Fé Torres, Jake Malavsky, Annika Rudolph, and Kyle Starling from the cast of Chasing Andy Warhol by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Jmonet Hill, Brandon P. Raines, Fé Torres, Jake Malavsky, Annika Rudolph, and Kyle Starling from the cast of Chasing Andy Warhol by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

The show, which opened April 7, is slated to run through June 12, although Lieberman is happy to extend the production if there is demand.

There are as many as nine performances a day, on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with new tours starting every 45 minutes. (Tickets are $80, with $25 rush tickets.) Along with the Warhols the the tour guides, the rest of the cast wields giant Warhol puppets and takes part in elaborate dance numbers as the action comes their way.

“Sometimes there will be 60 or 70 people following the show,” Lieberman said.

The theater company has partnerships with several local businesses to use their locations: once scene, for example, unfolds inside a shop window, and TMPL gym provided rehearsal space. The performance ends at the Von Bar on the Bowery, where ticket holders are admitted to the basement to watch the play’s dramatic conclusion.

Cast members Marisa Melito, Youran Lee, Katherine Winter, Luca Villa, and Antonia-Santangelo in <em>Chasing Andy Warhol</em> by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Cast memberw Marisa Melito, Youran Lee, Katherine Winter, Luca Villa, and Antonia-Santangelo in Chasing Andy Warhol by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

It’s Lieberman’s third art world-inspired production with New York’s Bated Breath Theatre Company, which premiered Beneath the Gavel, a participatory Off Broadway play where audience members could bid in a high-stakes art auction, in 2017. Staging a production on the streets of New York was a byproduct of the pandemic, which kept city theaters shuttered for some 18 months.

But while the lights were dark on Broadway, Lieberman premiered The Windows of Toulouse-Lautrec in September 2020, transporting audience members to 19th-century Paris via a roving West Village performance inspired by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Kyle Starling, Brandon P. Raines, and Jake Malavsky from the cast of <em>Chasing Andy Warhol</em> by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Kyle Starling, Brandon P. Raines, and Jake Malavsky from the cast of Chasing Andy Warhol by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Compared to the Frenchman, Warhol—who actually lived in New York and was deeply embedded in its nightlife and cultural scene—is a more natural fit for such a production (even if the play doesn’t manage to swing by his former Great Jones Street studio).

The form was designed to be COVID friendly, but Lieberman found that New York provided the ideal backdrop for live theater, injecting it with just the right amount of unpredictability. The production has had props stolen, and been forced to improvise new routes due to street closures—and there’s no way of knowing how the general chaos of the city will affect each performance.

“New York has a way of making a stage for us all,” Lieberman said. “I think Andy would have really loved that we’re putting a frame around life as it is and saying this is art.”

See more photos from the play below.

Annika Rudolph leads the audience in search of the title character in <em>Chasing Andy Warhol</em> by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Annika Rudolph leads the audience in search of the title character in Chasing Andy Warhol by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Brandon P. Raines Alysa Finnegan, Jake Malavsky, and Kyle Starling from the cast of <em>Chasing Andy Warhol</em> by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Brandon P. Raines Alysa Finnegan, Jake Malavsky, and Kyle Starling from the cast of Chasing Andy Warhol by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

An Andy Warhol puppet in <em>Chasing Andy Warhol</em> by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

An Andy Warhol puppet in Chasing Andy Warhol by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Valerie Solanas shoots Andy Warhol in <em>Chasing Andy Warhol</em> by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Valerie Solanas shoots Andy Warhol in Chasing Andy Warhol by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

An operation at the Bowery Wall in <em>Chasing Andy Warhol</em> by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

An operation at the Bowery Wall in Chasing Andy Warhol by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Andy Warhol framing the Empire State Building in lights in <em>Chasing Andy Warhol</em> by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Andy Warhol framing the Empire State Building in lights in Chasing Andy Warhol by Mara Lieberman. Photo by Sarah Cascone.


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