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Celeste DiNucci: “Philly Has Just About the Most Impressive Performing Arts Scene of Any City That I’ve Lived In.”

October 22, 2015

Text by Eric Fitzsimmons. Images by Jared Gruenwald.

She made a name for herself on the stage of “Jeopardy!” but back home in Philadelphia, Celeste DiNucci has focused her efforts to helping others put their art on the stage.

DiNucci achieved a measure of fame in 2006, when she appeared on “Jeopardy!” and went on a five-game winning streak. But her reputation as quiz show ace was cemented the following year. She returned for the Tournament of Champions and won, walking out with $250,000 in cash winnings. Plus a copy of the “Jeopardy!” DVD Home Game.

Red Hook Coffee and Tea on Fabric Row is almost too cozy for conversation. There are only two proper tables and a few other seats around, so you are bound to overhear every conversation.

And DiNucci is not the quiet type. She makes herself heard above the din, in particular her laugh. DiNucci puts her body into her speaking – it is little surprise when her lemonade takes a tumble, the lid, thankfully, holding strong.

“I think Philly has just about the most impressive performing arts scene of any city that I’ve lived in and I’ve lived in a lot of cities,” DiNucci says. “I think that the kind of theater and performance art that gets done here is just amazing. I really wanted to be involved in that scene.”

Much of her game show winnings went to her own pursuits, notably getting a Ph.D. in English and performance theater but she also found a cause in supporting local performance arts.

She first got involved in producing after seeing actor, sound designer and writer James Sugg’s “The Sea,” a rock and roll opera about large bodies of water and the men whom they fascinate, which debuted at the Fringe Festival in 2006.

“She is one of those supporters who seems to be at every piece and she has a laugh that is unmissable,”  says Sugg. “You know she is at the show without even seeing her.”

In 2007, DiNucci saw the show at Old Swede’s Church and approached him about buying the CD, except there had been no recording made. It is not unusual for someone to approach Sugg after a theater performance and suggest he make a recording of the music. People offer the suggestion for free but not the $10,000 to make that recording.

“But in this case, she did,” says Sugg. “She had won the mad cash on ‘Jeopardy!’ and she believed in the piece and said, ‘I want to help you do this.’”

DiNucci tried to broaden her scope in 2010 when she founded the Philadelphia Performing Arts Kitchen as a way of bringing funding and resources to projects that fell outside existing financial structures. The Kitchen supported a production of “Vainglorious” in 2012 but shortly thereafter, DiNucci was diagnosed with breast cancer. That pulled her away from the Performing Arts Kitchen and her involvement with the theater scene.

She finished treatment last year just in time for the “Jeopardy!” Battle of the Decades event and now, with a rogue streak of white cutting down the front of her black hair, the future is uncertain.

“I’m kind of in another one of those, ‘What am I going to do next?’ things,” she muses.

Reviving the Philadelphia Performing Arts Kitchen has occurred to her, because what she does know – and has known all along – is that she loves and wants to support the arts in Philly in her work. Though, she really enjoys making music and would love to have the chance to sing more jazz.

“I just need to find a piano to drape myself across,” she says.

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