"Andy & Me" offers a new take on one of modern art's most famous relationships
April 10, 2017
Warhol was in his early 50s, a longtime icon of the pop art movement, struggling to maintain his relevancy as the New York City art scene became increasingly populated by new mediums, new messages and new personalities. Basquiat wasn’t yet 20. He was one of the new wave of artists growing up around Warhol – a product of the streets, drawn to the raw expressiveness of the burgeoning hip-hop scene.
At first glance, the college-educated Warhol and the largely street-educated Basquiat would seem to have been at opposite ends of the art spectrum. But they needed each other. And for the balance of the 1980s, they maintained a relationship that was both collaborative and personal. Warhol’s established fame lifted Basquiat to new heights of notoriety, and Basquiat’s youthful energy breathed new life into Warhol’s career.
The story of Warhol and Basquiat captivated Stu Pflaum, a theatre student at Cuyahoga Community College’s Western Campus.
“It was just the curiosity about Basquiat, as I learned more about him via my pop culture studies,” Pflaum said. “He seemed like the polar opposite of Warhol, but they completed each other in a lot of ways. I wanted to explore it further.”
Last summer, Pflaum began to write a script based on the relationship between Warhol and Basquiat. The result was the play “Andy & Me,” which will debut at the Western Campus theatre April 26-29. All performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free.
Pflaum’s play isn’t a biographical retelling of the Warhol-Basquiat story. It’s a reimagining built around a mix of fictional and quasi-real characters. Basquiat’s persona is captured in the character of Lex-Pierre LaFleur (played by Brinden Harvey), who serves as the play’s central figure.
“The premise is that we have this young artist in Lex-Pierre, and he meets Andy, who serves as his muse at various points throughout his future career,” said James Rankin, the play’s director. “It’s a relationship that connects with various themes throughout the play – trust, opportunity, race and the emergence of the hip-hop culture during the time period.”
Along with its central character, the play itself has been on something of a journey. The mere fact that “Andy & Me” will play on the Western Campus stage is the product of circumstance. When the original spring production, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” was scrapped, the College began looking at possible replacement productions, eventually greenlighting Pflaum’s student-authored play.
For Pflaum, the opportunity to have his work come to life on stage is “surreal.”
“I’ve been writing film scripts for years as a hobby,” Pflaum said. “This was my first crack at writing a stage play, and it was really a learning process for me. In film, you shoot one scene at a time. Stage plays obviously don’t allow for that, so when you write a script and develop characters, you have to have a much deeper understanding of how actors learn, how they prepare for a script. That’s something I started to grasp as I went through my theatre classes here at Tri-C.”
“Andy & Me” is a production run almost entirely by students. In addition to Pflaum as a student playwright, the production features student actors and a mostly student-run operation behind the scenes. Rankin is one of the few people involved in the production who isn’t a student – but even he has a Tri-C connection. He’s a former student who is now a professional actor and director.
“I”ve acted and directed professionally for about seven years,” Rankin said. “I’ve mostly directed children’s plays to this point, so this was an opportunity to direct something that has more mature, adult-oriented themes.”
The mature content in the play includes adult language and allusions to drug abuse. In August 1988, Basquiat was found dead in his New York City studio of a heroin overdose, about 18 months after Warhol died due to complications following gallbladder surgery.
But Pflaum doesn’t want this to simply be a history lesson about the lives and deaths of Basquiat and Warhol. He and Rankin want “Andy & Me” to provoke audience members to challenge their own perceptions of what art is, and what defines an artist.
“Art is a universal language, and artists can come from everywhere,” Pflaum said. “We examine the concept of self-realization as an artist, and that the self-realization isn’t a singular goal to be reached, but a journey that happens over time.”
“It’s a story about an artist trying to prove that what he does is art,” Rankin said. “It’s about how each new artist fights this battle to gain acceptance – to have his or her work recognized as art, and in turn, to be recognized as an artist.”