Penny Arcade (performer)

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Penny Arcade
Born Susana Ventura
(1950-07-15) July 15, 1950 (age 65)
New York City, New York, United States
Occupation Performance artist, playwright

Penny Arcade (born Susana Ventura, July 15, 1950), is an American performance artist, actress, and playwright based in New York City.


Ventura's long association with avant-garde performance began at age 18, when she became a member of John Vaccaro's Playhouse of the Ridiculous. In 1968 she appeared in painter Larry Rivers film T.I.T.S. In 1969 she starred in the Jackie Curtis play Femme Fatale at La Mama Etc with Curtis and Mary Woronov, (Femme Fatale also featured the first stage appearances of Wayne County and Patti Smith) followed by a featured role in the Paul Morrisey / Andy Warhol film, Women in Revolt. In 1970 Arcade was featured in her first interview in Rags Magazine, an alternative fashion magazine.

In 1971 she turned down a role in the London production of Andy Warhol's play PORK directed by Anthony Ingrassia and chose instead to join Vaccaro and The Playhouse of the Ridiculous to Amsterdam. After eight months in Amsterdam, she moved to the island of Formentera in Spain's Balearic Islands.

Returning to New York in 1981, where she worked with many underground theatre artists, including Jack Smith, Charles Ludlam and the Angels of Light. She co-starred with Quentin Crisp in the long-running performance/interview piece, The Last Will and Testament of Quentin Crisp. In the spring of 1982, she improvised her first performance piece in Tinsel Town Tirade at Theater for The New City (what would be Hibiscus's final show), receiving her first writer's credit.

In February of 1985, Penny Arcade presented her first full length evening of original improvised work, "While You Were Out," at the Poetry Project, and then presented it at Performance Space 122 in June later that same year. "While You Were Out" then moved to University of The Streets in November 1985 and continued to run another four months.

Penny Arcade was featured in 1988 Vogue Magazine's "People Are Talking About" Issue, the first mention of performance art in a national fashion magazine. In the late 1980s she created a character named Margo Howard-Howard, a 50-year-old drag queen with a scandalous past, for her performances.[1] The New York Times refers to the character as "patently unbelievable", but in a later article acknowledges that her monologue was "based on real Lower East Side residents." Howard-Howard received an obituary in The Village Voice.

The Village Gate Sign on the corner of Thompson and Bleecker streets, January 2006

In the 1990s she toured internationally with her most popular show, Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!, which, like much of her work, was an opinionated commentary on sexuality and censorship; it featured a chorus of amateur reverse strippers. In 1998 she performed at the first Gay Shame event (as opposed to gay pride) at DUMBA in Brooklyn; she appears in the documentary film of the event by Scott Berry, entitled Gay Shame '98. Her 2002 performance New York Values, which also toured abroad, addressed the loss of cultural identity in New York during the Giuliani years. The famous Village Gate marquee in New York is still adorned with her name and the title of her performance piece, although the nightclub no longer exists.[2]

Arcade is a co-founder of the Lower East Side Biography Project, a video production and oral history workshop that trains participants in documentary filmmaking and preserves the stories of Lower Manhattan artists and activists. Recently profiled individuals have included Herbert Huncke, Jayne County, and Marty Matz, among others.

In 2002 Arcade ran for the New York State Assembly as a candidate of the Green Party.[3] She received 1,054 votes out of 32,976 in the 74th Assembly district,[4] losing to incumbent and anti-rent control advocate Steven Sanders.[5]

In January 2011 Arcade had an on stage spat with notorious performance artist Ann Liv Young who was in guise as her alter ego Sherry.[6]

In 2012 Arcade took up residence at London's Arcola Theatre for a run of her show Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! [7]

Penny Arcade has been married three times, although she refers to the first two marriages as adoptions. Her third marriage in 1998 was to singer-writer-composer Chris Rael. It was an artistic collaboration that included happy, romantic, and domestic components. They lived together until January 2008. While Arcade is critical of marriage, she contends that the only protection that one can get is with a federal and state marriage license. She supports marriage for anyone who wants it.


  1. ^ "Weekender Guide," New York Times, August 4, 1989
  2. ^ Al Giordano (June 4, 2010). "Penny Arcade’s Bad Reputation and a Stage Called Journalism". The Field. 
  3. ^ "New York Dreaming Green". Village Voice. 2002-10-08. Retrieved 2013-11-09. 
  4. ^ "NYS Board of Elections - Assembly - Vote November 5, 2002" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-11-09. 
  5. ^ "Gotham Gazette's Eye On Albany: New York State Assembly: District 74". Retrieved 2013-11-09. 
  6. ^ "Hipster warfare breaks out during performance artist Ann Liv Young's show at Delancey Lounge - NY Daily News". 2011-01-12. Retrieved 2013-11-09. 
  7. ^ "Arcola Theatre". Arcola Theatre. Retrieved 2013-11-09. 

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