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 Carmen Ventura, July 15, 1950), is an American performance artist, actress, and playwright based in New York City.

Early years[edit]

Susana Ventura was born in New Britain, Connecticut, and grew up in a working class Italian immigrant family. Her mother was abusive and her father was mentally ill.[1] At age 13 she ran away from home and spent a summer homeless in Provincetown.[2] She was sent to Sacred Heart Academy for Wayward Girls, a reform school, where she was released at age 16. With money stolen from a sandwich shop where she worked, she left for New York City, where she changed her name to Penny Arcade after an LSD trip.[3] Jamie Andrews of MainMan management company rescued her off the streets.[1]


Ventura's long association with avant-garde performance began at age 17, when she became a member of John Vaccaro's Playhouse of the Ridiculous.[3] 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, Mary Woronov, Jayne 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 Arcade 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 in Amsterdam. After eight months in Amsterdam, she moved to the island of Formentera in Spain's Balearic Islands.[2]

Returning to New York in 1981, she worked with 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, receiving her first writer's credit.[2]

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.[4] 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.[5] 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, Arcade 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.[6]

Arcade's 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.[7]

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.[8] 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.[9] She received 1,054 votes out of 32,976 in the 74th Assembly district,[10] losing to incumbent and anti-rent control advocate Steven Sanders.[11]

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.[12] In 2012 she took up residence at London's Arcola Theatre for a run of her show Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! [13]

In 2013 Arcade appeared in a revival of Tennessee Williams one-act play, The Mutilated. The production was directed by Cosmin Chivu with music by Jesse Selengut, and produced as part of the eighth annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival in Massachusetts. It later opened for a run at the New Ohio Theatre in the West Village.[14]

Personal life[edit]

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 identifies as bisexual,[3] and supports marriage for anyone who wants it.


Selected works include:

  • While You Were Out (1985)
  • Invisible on the Streets (1986)
  • Bid for the Big Time (1988)
  • Bringing It All Back Home (1988)
  • Operating Under The Influence (1988)
  • Quiet Night for Sid and Nancy at the Chelsea Hotel (1989)
  • True Stories (1989)
  • Based on A True Story (1990)
  • The Beginning of the End of the World (1990)
  • La Miseria (1991)
  • State of Grace (1991)
  • Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! (1992)
  • Sunday Tea With Quentin Crisp (1993)
  • Love Sex and Sanity (1995)
  • An Evening With Penny Arcade And Quentin Crisp (1995)
  • Sisi Sings The Blues (1996)
  • Bad Reputation (1997)
  • The Last Will And Testament Of Quentin Crisp (1999)
  • Lady Fest (2000)
  • Virtual Arcade Cyber Performance And Interview Show (2000)
  • Alive and Kicking (2001)
  • Sex. Politics. Reality. (2001)
  • New York Values (2002)
  • Penny Arcade At The Warhol Museum (2002)
  • Artist Survivor (2002)
  • Working My Way Down (2003)
  • Rebellion Cabaret (2004)
  • Escape From The East Village Ny Ny (2004)
  • Penny Arcade in Motion (2005)
  • Old Queen (2009)
  • Longing Lasts Longer (2011)
  • The Etiquette Of Death (2012)
  • The Girl Who Knew Too Much (2013)


  1. ^ a b Hicklin, Aaron (4 April 2011), Ladies We Love: Penny Arcade, retrieved 18 September 2015 
  2. ^ a b c Biography, retrieved 18 September 2015 
  3. ^ a b c Arcade, Penny (13 November 2009), Bad Reputation, Semiotext(e) 
  4. ^ Performance, New York Magazine, 10 June 1985, retrieved 18 September 2015 
  5. ^ "Weekender Guide," New York Times, August 4, 1989
  6. ^ Penny Arcade, 11 June 2012, retrieved 18 September 2015 
  7. ^ Al Giordano (June 4, 2010). "Penny Arcade’s Bad Reputation and a Stage Called Journalism". The Field. 
  8. ^ The Lower East Side Biography Project, retrieved 18 September 2015 
  9. ^ "New York Dreaming Green". Village Voice. 2002-10-08. Retrieved 2013-11-09. 
  10. ^ "NYS Board of Elections - Assembly - Vote November 5, 2002" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-11-09. 
  11. ^ "Gotham Gazette's Eye On Albany: New York State Assembly: District 74". Retrieved 2013-11-09. 
  12. ^ "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. 
  13. ^ "Arcola Theatre". Arcola Theatre. Retrieved 2013-11-09. 
  14. ^ Murphy, Tim (31 October 2013), Loud and Colorful, With Total Recall: The Performance Artist Penny Arcade, Now an Actress, retrieved 18 September 2015 

Further reading[edit]

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