Friday, March 28, 2014

Penny Fuller: A Sin Twister!

Penny Fuller
"An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest." ~Benjamin Franklin

Happy Friday!

Two notable theatrical luminaries are setting their sights on the stage of 54 Below for SIN TWISTERS, a new evening of story and song set to play at the cabaret hotspot for two encore shows on March 30 and April 1.
When Penny Fuller and 2014 MAC (Manhattan Association and Clubs) Award Winner Anita Gillette hit the stage on Sunday Night at 54 Below, they will be bringing a lifetime of experience to the audiences lucky enough to attend with their show Sin Twisters. They are both winners because they are both good persons. Someone once divided the world into two categories: those you would like to have dinner with and those you wouldn't.These are two women I would LOVE To have dinner with, either separately or together.

I have gotten to know Anita over the years, even doing a couple of
Anita Gillette
blog features on her.

Penny and I actually don't know each other personally, although our paths cross from time to time at various shows.
I know her better now than I did a week ago at this time.
We also are both Carolinians. I am from South Carolina. Penny is from North. She always always always knew she desired to act. She was either going to be an Egyptologist or an actress. She had a great uncle in New York who was an actor. She always knew.

We sat down to discuss her upcoming show and touch upon her amazing past a few days ago.Our very lives are the results of our thinking and the results of our thinking processes.

Penny proves that in spades.
Lee Roy Reams, Lauren Bacall and Penny Fuller in "But Alive" from Applause
The genesis of Sin Twisters goes back to Penny and Musical Director Barry Kleinbort.
Anita Gillette
Both were teaching at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Festival/Cabaret Division. They were not teaching neophytes. They were singers who had already delved into the world of cabaret and were interested in improving their singing or finding out more about themselves.
There were even some actors that were trepidatious about singing.
Every Friday of the first week of the conference, Penny would perform her own show directed by Barry.
One day, he started talking about Anita, whom he also worked with.

At that time, Penny didn't really "know" Anita. They had just never gotten to be friends. The strange thing, however, was that people were constantly mistaking Penny for Anita and vice versa.They were always telling Anita how great she was in Applause.

Move forward to a Christmas party at Len Cariou's.The party was crowded and Anita and Penny ended up

in the hallway with drinks in hand. They began conversing and they ended up sliding down to the floor where they sat for an hour and a half and a friendship was formed and they filled in the blanks.
One summer, about three or four years ago, the birth of this cabaret show began. Sin Twisters is a spoonerism from Twin Sisters, since they are not exactly twins...or even sisters, for that matter!
It ended up being performed first at the Eugene O'Neill Conference.
Penny also has a one woman musical that she performs now mostly for benefits. She is exhausted when those shows are over. With Sin Twisters, she shares that burden.She has a great time with it. It is kind of a history of the theatre in microcosm. They talk about their
Penny Fuller and Ken Kercheval in Naked City
careers. They came along at a time when the business was a lot different.

As they say in the show, Penny came to New York as an actress and "accidentally" fell into singing.Anita came as a singer who was dying to be taken seriously as an actress.
 All of this is covered in the show. It has only been performed at the O'Neill and 54 Below.
This is a return engagement.

The theater has changed drastically since when both Penny and Anita began.
Penny believes the biggest changes are due to television.
  People watching television just sit back and are entertained without the participation that the theater theoretically requires. The original theatre came from the Greeks and it was part of a healing process.
 Asclepius was the ancient Greek god of medicine and he was also credited with powers of prophecy. The god had several sanctuaries across Greece; the most famous was at Epidaurus which became an important centre of healing in both ancient Greek and Roman times and was the site of athletic, dramatic, and musical Games held in Asclepius’ honour every four years.
 People would go to Asclepius' healing center and they would have massages and etc. Then they would go to the theatre and have a cathartic experience.

It was as if something was pulled from you.
What has happened with television on, is that it happens "on you". You don't participate as much. You participate on a whole other level. You see actors jump up and down and cry and go through various emotions but doesn't seem to be a meeting of the forces as it once was.

The theatre controls the reactions of the audience more now than before. We are essentially told, Now, this is a big rousing number. Have a good time."
It seems to Penny, that in the "old days" , that the responsibility of the audience participated more by "leaning forward" rather than leaning backwards as we do by watching television.
Penny admits that she doesn't like today's "theatre" as much as she used to. It all kind of takes place "up there" and doesn't draw her in as much. It happens on her. She misses what it once was terribly. When she does go to London, she still sees vestiges of that kind of theatre. The last two things that really riveted Penny in the theatre were History Boys and The Habit of Art.
Now that we've lost Richard Griffiths, we've lost a major talent.
Musicals, Penny loves, but nowadays, they seem to be loud and not giving Penny room.
Penny does have a favorite theatre in New York, the Booth. It is not too big. It has the right amount of intimacy even though it it is not a tiny off-Broadway theatre. Actors can FEEL the exchange between themselves and the audience. One of her favorite experiences was a happy "accident".
Dividing The Estate

It was Neil Simon's The Dinner Party which played at The Music Box Theatre. There is a pivotal moment in the play in which Penny's character goes to the doors upstage left. She opens the doors expecting Len Cariou to be there and he's not. She had to play that moment with her back to the audience. She felt that at that theatre it was intimate enough to play her intent. The Golden and The Booth also have that feel.
I asked Penny if there was one particular moment in her career that she would like to live over. Although she lived in California for a while, she doesn't have this total positive outlook on everything. She does believe that everything worked out the way it was supposed to. One regret was that she she didn't get Promises, Promises, although she was in line for it. Not getting this show, she packed her bags and went to Hollywood. Her feeling was that if Broadway didn't want her, perhaps Hollywood would. She had not gotten her own role by this point. She had only been replacing or understudying others. She went to Hollywood where she did a lot of theatre. She did come back to Broadway to do Applause
After Applause, she went back to Hollywood, where she did a lot of television.
 Her dream was to be an "English actress in America", IE meaning, going from one genre to another...from comedy to drama, from television to the theatre, from musicals to film. That was her dream: Not to be just one thing. She remembers asking once in Hollywood, "Why am I out here trying to get a television series when I don't even desire that" 

She wanted what television would get her, the chance to play the roles she desired on Broadway.  
Penny believes that it is endemic of our entire society that we pigeonhole people into categories. She doesn't believe it is just in the theatre.
There is a rigidity. There is an illusion that we are all free floating and able to do whatever we desire to do. It looks like we're free but we're all rather uptight. Somehow, along the way, we have lost our imagination in both life AND the theatre. It is all financial. We don't have "time" to be creative because we all have to make a living because it costs so much to LIVE.
So, the imagination or the Joie de Vivre or the sense of adventure, no one has time for. She looks at her daughter and son in law. They have a daughter and Penny does not know how they do what they do.She goes to visit them and she can't wait to get home and rest.
It is hard today. It was not that kind of hard twenty five years ago.
There have been two roles in Penny's career that was hard for her to let go of. The first was the lead in Pinter's Betrayal. There is such a
rhythm to Pinter that when she went on to another play, she found the next play incredibly boring. She desired back those pauses and rhythms. The style is so specific. Everything else felt so pedantic. She wanted to stop playing Eve Harrington after a while because she is, in a way, so negative.
The character isn't negative in the sense that she is grasping and reaching. It took a darkness within Penny to pull it off every time. She was glad to stop doing it. 
Penny was in Applause a little over a year when they desired her to go on the road with the show to the MUNY in St. Louis.
She said no. They asked her again. Once again, she said no. They offered her more money. She told them she wasn't holding out for more money. She didn't desire to do it anymore. She had to get away from it. Can you imagine having a line like, "Screw you, Daddy! Look at your little girl now!" night after night in the theatre?
They told her they really wanted her to do the last stint of Bacall's tour in San Francisco and LA. She gave in to
Arlene Dahl
In addition to Bacall, Penny also appeared with Anne Baxter on Broadway. She rehearsed with Eleanor Parker who took over for Bacall in LA. She was quite wonderful. Penny also rehearsed with Arlene Dahl who ended the run in New York.
Penny never played Margo which she thinks is a huge shame. It would have been such a hoot for all who saw her play Eve Harrington. That would be a complete circle.
One of Penny's favorite memories of the show was when she went to San Francisco. That company was very happy to have Penny back. At the beginning when she is receiving The Tony Award (the Sarah Siddons Award in the film All About Eve, on which Applause is based), she says, "And it is all due to Margo Channing", and she is supposed to hold her hand out with Margo glaring back. The voice over is "Eve, Eve, Eve...". Lauren Bacall was so glad to
have Penny back, that she had a huge grin on her face. 
THAT happens to be one of Penny's favorite moments.
Besides acting and singing, Penny also writes. She was acting a lot for a while. Acting has taken over to the point that she doesn't have much time for that.So has singing. Lots of singing. Penny considers herself basically as a dramatic actress. She played serious roles in musicals. In recent years, she has started singing more and more in cabarets. She maintains that her writing has actually helped her singing. She got Barry Kleinbort to write her one person musical, 13 Things About Ed Carpolotti, Based on the play by JEFFREY HATCHER. That show is an hour and ten minutes of Penny. It was done at the 59 East 59 Street Theatre here in New York last Christmas. They are trying to get another production up and running here in New York. They are slated to do it at Merrimack Rep in Lowell, Massachusetts in November. As a result of all of the above, Penny hasn't gotten back to her writing. However, she was recently sitting in her apartment here in New York one day when she was not working and said, "Look at what you unconsciously have made for yourself." She is on the 20th floor looking out at the Hudson River and she is thinking, "I've got my little area and what I have always wanted to do is write." She started writing and she met Joan Tewkesbury, writer, probably most known for writing the film Nashville. Joan gave Penny some exercises. Penny hasn't had the time to act upon this. The bad news is that she has been busy. The good news is that she has been busy.
Since her daughter's baby has been born, Penny has felt a yen to put her life on paper, not necessarily for the general public to buy. She feels that she 
should write all this down for HIM.
Working with Anita, they have come to realize how much they know and how much is gone.
She went to the last production of the Scottish play and after the play they went to a little bistro near Lincoln Center.
Friends of Penny and John Glover were having a conversation. At the next table were some kids from Julliard. The conversation spread. One of the kids said something and Penny followed up mentioning Marlene Dietrich. He immediately said, "Who is that?" Then, on the other side of the table, John Glover mentioned All About Eve, and a girl said, "What is that?" 
One of my personal soapboxes is that I don't feel that our history of the theatre is being respected and preserved and/or remembered to the extent that it should be. Penny absolutely agrees with me.
It's show BUSINESS. It's less theatre and more show BUSINESS. Last week, Penny was at an alumni dinner of NorthWestern.
Penny has discussed with Anita and Barry about lengthening Sin Twisters and adding a little more "heft" to it and taking it to universities. There is a lot about the theatre and Harold Arlen and Frank Loesser and Joe Papp, etc. Kids will have rich full lives not knowing who these people are, but they will not have as rich a life if they don't have some connection to who who they are/were.
Unless someone can find for a theatre museum to make money, they don't think of it. It's ALL about the money which is terrible.
Penny has had some incredibly wonderful moments in the theatre.
When Shakespeare wrote about how “age cannot wither” the “infinite variety” of Cleopatra VII, the last queen of Egypt, ...
The one role that Penny has never played that she always yearned for is Shakespeare's Cleopatra. She has that great speech about a dream about Emperor Anthony. She asks, "Do you think there ever was such a man as this I dreamed of?"

Do you think there ever was, or could there ever be, a man such as the one I dreamed about?

Gentle madam, no.
You lie up to the hearing of the gods.
But if there be nor ever were one such,
It’s past the size of dreaming. Nature wants stuff
To vie strange forms with fancy, yet t’ imagine
An Antony were nature’s piece ’gainst fancy,
Condemning shadows quite.

It is a regret of Penny's that she has never been able to utter these great lines on stage.
Penny has learned a lot. The theatre is a place of magic and scary stuff. Those that are lucky enough to be a part of that world deal in universal psyche stuff. We are not just talking about "Boom, boom, boom...I love you Baby." "We ARE talking about love and death and "Screw you, daddy...what you did to me." Areas are being delved in to that are pretty powerful and the main thing is to keep it open and clear and don't shut down. To shut down, or to become so bitter that you do shut down, becoming angry, and not keeping open is a very bad career choice. In the work itself, the impulses that may have not been previously thought of may be sort of arbitrary things that pop into your mind may be more real than the obvious. Penny once had a teacher who said, "Actors cry, but watch those on television who try not to cry...the real people who deal with tragedies who try to be brave and not cry." Once again, it
is always about keeping open.
Penny doesn't like to "work" for a living. She likes to what she desires to do for a living. She finds it hard to do a play or to do anything, for that matter, just to get the money. There has to be something else in it for her. That is a vice and a virtue!
What goes through Penny's head just before stepping out on the stage? It depends. Penny has spoken to doctor friends of hers, telling them she would be willing to experiment on her brain with wires to find out what is really happening to her when she is on stage. Artists are free floating in creative stuff. She is hearing the music. She is remembering the lines and/or the lyrics. She is thinking, "Oh look at who is in the audience." She is still deeply involved.There are many levels of consciousness that are going on. She finds all of this fascinating. She believes, as I do, that neuroscientists would feel the same. Neuroscience is becoming more prominent as the brain is being studied. More study should be done on the study of artists. When Yo Yo Ma is playing a Bach cello piece, he is transported. He doesn't consciously think of what the fingering is. Again, there are many levels that he experiences as he transports his audiences.
How lucky New Yorkers will be on Sunday and Monday Night at 7PM at 54 Below as two artists at the top of their game will take their audiences (including me!) on whatever journey we all experience together.
On the 13th of April, Penny returns, not only to 54 Below, but she also returns to Eve Harrington! They are doing an evening devoted to Applause! Len Cariou, Penny Fuller, and Lee Roy Reams as well as others will come together for this celebration.

'A Little Night Music' at the White Plains PAC Mark Jacoby, Erin Davie, Penny Fuller (
Several years ago, Penny played Desiree in A Little Night Music. She is returning to A Little Night Music

this summer in the Berkshires. This time, she will play Madame Armfeldt. Gregg Edelman will play the role of Fredrik Egerman for BTG's 2014 summer musical. Ethan Heard, who directed BTG's 2013 hit murder mystery The Cat and the Canary, will direct Stephen Sondheim's award-winning musical which also features Tony Award and Drama Desk nominee Kate Baldwin, internationally-acclaimed vocalist and actress Maureen O'Flynn, and Broadway and television actor Graham Rowat.

What does Penny Fuller do it for? It is a calling. It is a calling to be able to morph in a way to tell a story and change someone's life...if only for a moment. 

Let's start celebrating artists again rather than tearing them down.

Thank you ALL of the artists mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!

 With grateful XOXOXs ,

Check out my site celebrating the FIRST Fifty years of  Hello, Dolly!

I desire this to be a definitive account of Hello, Dolly!  If any of you reading this have appeared in any production of Dolly, I'm interested in speaking with you!
If you have anything to add or share, please contact me at


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    
               Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

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