Since first climbing out of her bedroom window at age 14 to join the fabulously disenfranchised world of queers, junkies, whores, stars, deviants and geniuses she has become one of the most influential performers in the world. By fearlessly displaying her singular brand of feminist sexuality and personal conflict she has garnered countless fans worldwide with an emotionally and intellectually charged performance style. Internationally revered as writer, director and actress, she has influenced generations of artists around the world .Many of her ideas and phrases have entered the mainstream usually without her name attached to them.
While Penny Arcade is considered the Queen of Underground Performance she has had a mainstream presence outside of America since 1993 and her work has been produced everywhere from Calgary to Sydney, London to Vienna, Rio to Zagreb,Zurich to Belfast, Oslo to Lisbon, Mexico City to Glasgow , Dublin to Vancouver but her larger full length work has been produced in few places in the USA outside of NY, LA and SF.
Born Susana Carmen Ventura to an immigrant Italian family in the small factory town of New Britain, Connecticut, she became Penny Arcade at age 17 while on LSD in an effort to amuse her mentor and patron, openly gay photographer/artist Jaimie Andrews. It was Andrews, a member of The Playhouse of the Ridiculous, who introduced the young Arcade to legendary director John Vaccaro. Vaccaro of the glitter /glam, political ,proto punk, rock and roll, queer theatre group The Playhouse Of The Ridiculous was then directing Kenneth Bernard’s potent play The Moke Eater, subsequently gave Penny her theatrical debut in the groundbreaking production. Impressed by her high energy standout performances in The Playhouse Of The Ridiculous, Andy Warhol recruited Arcade still a teenager to be a Factory Superstar, she participated in Warhol’s of Rent a Superstar and was given a featured role in the Morrissey/Warhol film Women In Revolt but quickly found the life of an upcoming pop tart too one dimensional and fled to Amsterdam with Vaccaro and The Playhouse of The Ridiculous in January of 1971. After a few months under difficult conditions with The Playhouse in Amsterdam She broke free to begin an odyssey that would last ten years and include a vintage store in Amsterdam before she moved to Formentera, Spain where along with becoming immersed in the local peasant culture (she was one of 4 foreigners who learned and spoke the difficult Catalan dialect Eivissenc) Along with participating in the expat music,dance and theatre culture. She was a member of the international theatre collective EL Tribu. She started a school for the young children of expats The Play School based on ideas she had gleaned from reading the autobiography of Maria Montessori,which Swiss Televison made a documentary of. In 1973 she left Formentera for a sabbatical in Mallorca where she spent a summer as a guest of poet Robert Graves salon and then became a member of a political puppet theatre group based in Palma De Mallorca under the leadership of legendary Catalan puppet master Pep Gomez. Seeking to find money to continue with the poor puppet group she stumbled into the world of B Girls and prostitutes who drank with US sailors on R&R led by the notorious former French Madam Annie Petite and was thrown out of the puppet group. In 1975 under scandalous and frightening circumstances where the Mallorcan police tried to have her act as an undercover informant she returned to the USA where within a few months of her return she ended up in Central Maine at the heart of the Back To The Land Movement, living without heat or water in the back woods while becoming involved involved in another grassroots theatre collective, while making music and holding down a number of jobs she had no formal qualifications for including as Social worker for the town of Fairfield,Maine In 1997 she was tapped to take the helms of The Pittsfield Community Theatre , a 300 seat facility with state of the art stage equipt with 35 mm projector which had been inherited by the town for back taxes.Withing a year she made the theatre the site of both first run mainstream movies and an art film program while curating highly praised music,theatre and poetry series as well as a much loved focus on community arts.In 1979 acclaimed humorist Marsh Dodge asked her to curate music at The Maine Festival and she was responsible for bringing rock and roll to the festival and legitimizing it as an art form in the festival.
In 1980, La Mama’s Ellen Stewart of LaMama Etc and Vaccaro invited her to recreate her 1970 role in Ken Bernard’s play Nite Club, a play that foreshadowed the AIDS EPIDEMIC that came to light as the Nite CLUB was remounted . She returned to New York after nearly a decade of globe hopping and international intrigue to resume her apprenticeship with many of the greats of American experimental theatre including Jack Smith, Jackie Curtis and Charles Ludlam. In 1982 Arcade began creating her own improvisational and unscripted solo work with a full band which debuted in 1985 first at The Poetry Project and then at Performance space 122. In 1989 she began to create group work, beginning with her commission from Engarde Arts for whom she created A Quiet Night for Sid and Nancy at the Chelsea Hotel.
1990-91 was a prolific period for Arcade during which she wrote four full length shows, including the core of her autobiographical trilogy; Based on A True Story, Invitation to The Beginning Of The End Of The World and La Miseria. It was also in 1990 that she created her most famous work, her sex and censorship show, BITCH!DYKE!FAGHAG!WHORE! A blend of political humanism, freedom of expression and erotic dancing that began as a four day audit piece for an NEA Fellowship at the height of the National Endowment For The Arts culture wars . In 1993 after an unprecedented one year run off broadway BITCH!DYKE!FAGHAG!WHORE! toured the world twice both as an international festival as well as a commercial hit in 20 cities around the world. She retired the show at the end of 1995. In 1995 she returned to Performance Space 122 and resumed her unique form of creating improvisational work in front of a live audience with Love Sex and Sanity. In 1995 she was commissioned to create a show with the legendary racanteur and British wit Quentin Crisp for the Vienna Festival based on the two man shows the two had started in 1992 at Performance Space 122 Sunday Afternoon Tea with Penny Arcade and Quentin Crisp.
In 1996 Penny was commissioned by Wienerfestwochen , The Vienna Theatre Festival to create Sisi Sings The Blues (Love, sex and Sanity) her fin de siecle popera about loss and sorrow. Bad Reputation her all girl show (with a few gay men who wanted their own dance number!) had two incarnation in NYC at Performance Space 122 in February of 1997 and March of 1999 and later in 2004 in Manchester, England, and Glasgow Scotland. Her 2002 New York Values – an autopsy on the death of Bohemia and the commodification of rebellion – also had its premiere at PS 122 in spring of 2002 as a group show and has been performed as a solo show in Los Angeles, Austin, Frankfurt, Heildelberg,Edinburgh,Scotland and the Royal Festival Hall in London.
For much of the 2000’s Penny Arcade has made her work outside of the United States. Longing Lasts Longer 2011 In Frankfurt ,Germany at Mousonturm. The Girl Who Knew Too Much at Warehouse 9 Copenhagen, Outburst Festival, Belfast,Ireland ,at Mona Lisa 2013 in Oslo, Norway, and in Lisbon and Porto Portugal.
From 1999 to 2005 with her then husband Chris Rael of Indo -Pop group Church of Betty , the two paired texts and music to create Rebellion Cabaret which played many dates in NY as well as The Dulin ,Fringe 2004 and Sydney Opera House in 2005.
Since 2011 Penny Arcade has acted as hostess and Den Mother for Earl Dax’s Pussy Faggot, a performance art party held monthly or so in which she improvises on a number of subjects related to history, social studies,art and culture as a means of orienting the new generations of young seekers who come to New York to the NY counterculture.
Since 1999 Penny has spearheaded the award winning documentary series Stemming The Tide of Cultural Amnesia, The Lower Eastside Biography Project, an oral history and downtown performance project that began as a Public Access television program cum training program sponsored in part by Manhattan Neighborhood Network. She is a member of Feminists for Free Expression, The National Coalition Against Censorship, Visual Aids, the artist/art professional caucus that produces Day Without Art each December 1 st. In addition, she is a founding member of FEVA (Federation of East Village Artists) the producer of The Howl! Festival of the Arts.Click here for link.
In 2012 the 20th anniversary revival of her sex and censorship show Bitch!Dyke!Faghag!Whore! played 48 shows in London with 48 standing ovations, hitting the zeitgeist again as it did in it’s year long 1992-1993 off broadway run at The famed Village Gate where it ignited the international neo burlesque movement.
The international press in every major city has long done features on Penny Arcade and we are happy that The New York Times has joined them!
Penny Arcade has a long history of political activism begining as a teenager with Yippie and Up Against The Wall Motherfuckers in the 1960’s, as an independent Artist Advocate since the 1970’s , an AIDS activist since the 1980’s and as a housing activist and pirate radio activist since the 1990’s.
She has recently been named artist in residence at The Writers Room, a resource for New York writers since 1979.
She is currently writing her autobiography.