Deb Filler

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Deborah Rachel "Deb" Filler is a New Zealand born writer/performer, character artist and producer. Born to a Jewish parents, a German mother, Ruth Filler (born Ruth Adler in Hildesheim, Germany), and Sol (Schaja) Filler, a Pole from Brzozow Galicia, who survived Plascow, Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Theresienstadt concentration camps.[1] Her maternal grandparents fled from Germany to New Zealand in 1938 (her maternal grandfather's family's history can be traced back to the late sixteenth century in Germany). The family lived in Obernkirchen and Hildesheim. Jüdisches Leben in der Provinz contains genealogy of the Adler's family history in Obernkirchen as well as other Jews from the province of Schaumberg with a contribution by Filler.[2]

Early life[edit]

Growing up in Auckland, she attended Mt Roskill Primary, where the local Presbyterian vicar, preaching to the entire school over the school intercom, informed the school it was the Jews who had killed Jesus. At the age of 9 she insisted to the vicar that her family had no part in killing Jesus and he recanted his statement publicly. As part of the Little Folksingers of Mt Roskill, a local recording group, she attended several folk concerts including Josh White, Judy Collins, and met Peter Paul and Mary, who encouraged her to continue singing folk songs. Also at age 9 she began to play guitar, mimicking socially important and intricately harmonized folk songs, determined to pursue a career in folk music. The Little Folksingers of Mt Roskill recorded Malvina Reynolds' songs, Puff the Magic Dragon, as well as many other folk and children's songs of that period. She later attended Mt Roskill Intermediate and Mt Roskill Grammar Schools. After a year at the Machon L'Madrichei Chutz La'Aretz leadership institute in Israel, she enrolled to study as a teacher trainee at the Auckland College of Education,[3] specializing in drama. It was during this period, in 1974, she met Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein was so delighted her father had attended a concert he had played for Holocaust survivors at the Landsberg Displaced Person's Camp, near Munich in 1948, that he closed the Auckland Town Hall and played a piano concerto entirely to Filler. Bernstein became a major role model for Filler both professionally and personally, who often quoted his warmth and generosity on and off stage. Filler co-wrote, "Mr Bernstein", a short film slated for production as part of the New Zealand Film Commission Premiere Shorts program. She taught music, theatre and English for the Auckland Education Board at area schools for three years, creating a musical, Giz A Go Travelling Road Show, touring in a friend's painted bus with her students.

Early career[edit]

Filler was lead singer in several rock and roll bands and a founding member of two celebrated New Zealand punk cabaret groups, "The Ratz" and "Debbie and the Dum Dums" with Derek Ward, Miles McKane, and Sarah Pierse.[4][5][6] Also played music in the Backstreet Women's Theatre,[7] a company formed by feminists in the New Zealand Women's Movement,[8] reacting against a prominent anti-abortion bill at the time in New Zealand, which was overturned. Left New Zealand to study theatre in London but stayed in New York when she discovered Stella Adler, Uta Hagen, and Deborah Hedwall.[9] Her off-Broadway debut was in Sophie, a musical comedy based on the life of singer Sophie Tucker.[10] She performed in Europe with various 1980s theatre companies. Her first one-woman show, a variety of sketches which she wrote and performed in, was named 'Pick of the Fringe Festivals' by the CBC, Canada. Performing at various 1980s New York downtown cabaret spaces she worked alongside John Leguizamo, Blue Man Group, as a featured artist at the 'Gusto House Cabaret' and was chosen to tour as a headliner from Gusto at the 1990 Edinburgh Fringe Festival with fellow performers including Jim Turner.[11] A tour of the U.K. followed.


Filler has worked as an actor, writer and comedian internationally including the Stratford Festival and in The Handmaid's Tale.[12] She is best known for her character artistry and autobiographical writing and performance, Punch Me in the Stomach a comi-tragedy, blending laughter and tears.[13] [12], co-written with Alison Summers, was her first major solo show. She performed thirty-six characters[14] and the show was initially workshopped at La Mama Theatre in New York.[15] It toured to the Adelaide Festival, and the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts, where she won 'Critics' Pick'. It opened off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop in 1992 and has frequently toured internationally including return shows to Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland and Berlin.[16] It opened New York's Jewish Museum's refurbished theatre, sold out at Sydney's Belvoir Street Theatre and around the world and opened the new Hong Kong Theatre for the Arts. The show was adapted to a film by documentary filmmaker and director Francine Zuckerman.

"FILLER UP!" co-written with Lowry Marshall is a twenty-seven character solo play where she bakes a loaf of challah bread onstage, ending with the story of how her father upon his liberation, was able to bake bread with the captured German POW's, because everybody was hungry. The play was workshopped in New Zealand at the Wellington Fringe 2000, at Rhubarb! Festival in Toronto, Baltimore Theatre Project], Theatre J Washington, Gloucester Theatre Company, Open Stage of Harrisburg (at their 2nd Annual WomenSpeak Festival in 2001), in Winnipeg and at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh.[17] World Premiere of the show at Drill Hall Theatre, London 2003 to a sellout run. Equally successful runs in Toronto, Berlin, Sydney,Auckland and the U.S. (Alexandria, VA, and FL).[18][19][20]

Playwriting stints include the Adirondak Theatre Festival] and guest playwright Buddies in Bad Times Theatre AnteChamber, and an ongoing member of the Usual Suspects Playwrights Lab at New York Theatre Workshop.[21]

Film and Television[edit]

The Handmaid's Tale, Hulu, Shark Lords, FX, Reign, Odd Swiad, Lucky 7, Mr Bernstein,[22] Punch Me in the Stomach, the film toured theatrically and was later screened on television internationally including on PBS.[23]

Short films, 'Ladies and Gentlemen:Biddie Schitzerman," (writer and performer) and 'Trip'(co-writer). Angst, a documentary produced by the ABC. Appeared as Elaine, from Elaine's Restaurant New York The Path to 9/11 with Harvey Keitel and Finn's Girl.[24][25][26]

Print and other work[edit]

Voice of the Peg Bundy doll and "Mummy" in the award-winning animated series, Bob and Margaret. Contributing writer in DAUGHTERS OF ABSENCE, edited by Mindy Weisel. Worked on numerous productions as co-writer, coaches, m.c's live entertainment shows.


  1. ^ Sol Filler
  2. ^ Rolf B. de Groot; Günter Schlusche (2008). Jüdisches Leben in der Provinz: Schicksale jüdischer Familien in Schaumburg seit 1580, erzählt und dokumentiert [Jewish Life in the Province: fate of Jewish families in Schaumburg since 1580, told and documented] (in German). ISBN 978-3831903337.
  3. ^ Auckland Teachers' Training College
  4. ^ http://library.vuw[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Miles Mckane -
  6. ^ Sarah Peirse - IMDb
  7. ^ A Chronology of Homosexuality in New Zealand - Part 2 - Queer History New Zealand
  8. ^ Women, Political Leadership and Substantive Representation: the Case of New Zealand
  9. ^ Deborah Hedwall - IMDb
  10. ^ Goodman, Walter (10 November 1987). "Stage: 'Sophie,' Musical Drawn From Tucker". The New York Times. p. 15.
  11. ^ Jim Turner - IMDb
  12. ^ a b Smith, Dinitia (23 December 1997). "For the Holocaust 'Second Generation,' an Artistic Quest". The New York Times. p. 1.
  13. ^ Jonathan Petropoulos; John Roth (1 September 2006). Gray Zones: Ambiguity and Compromise in the Holocaust and Its Aftermath. Berghahn Books. p. 264. ISBN 978-1-84545-302-2.
  14. ^ [1] Archived 8 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "Deb Filler > Deb's Shows > An Evening With Deb Filler". Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  16. ^ Deb Filler > Acclaim
  17. ^ "Filler Up - Edinburgh Evening News". 20 August 2002. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  18. ^ Deb Filler > Deb's Shows > Filler Up!
  19. ^
  20. ^ Atwood, Liz (13 February 2002). "Pondering a passion for food". The Sun.
  21. ^ Adirondack Theatre Festival Past Productions | Adirondack Theatre Festival
  22. ^ Francine Zuckerman - IMDb
  23. ^ "Deb Filler > Deb's Shows > An Evening With Deb Filler". Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 21 October 2010.
  24. ^ "Bravo!FACT | A Foundation To Assist Canadian Talent". Archived from the original on 8 July 2011. Retrieved 21 October 2010.
  25. ^ Trip (2006) (TV)
  26. ^ "Review of "Finn's Girl" | Movie Reviews, Celebrity Interviews & Film News About & For Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Women |". Archived from the original on 9 July 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2010.