by Kevin Shaw | photos by Joan Allison
Barry Fuller is the “Betty White” of Memphis theatre and that’s saying a lot! Nearing the age of 90, this out and proud member of the LGBT community was born in Wagga Wagga, Australia, lived in Sydney before ultimately settling here in Memphis almost 60 years ago. He has been a beloved performer bringing joy to local audiences ever since and has no plans of retiring any time soon. Focus Magazine was honored to chat with this acting legend.
Were you a child actor?
No, I was a spoiled brat. I acted out things for relatives and they loved me—it was show-off time! I would put on the Victrola—you know, you would wind it up and put on a record and then it would play and my auntie thought I was the most wonderful thing in the world!
Did you know you were gay at a very young age?
Not until I was about 10 or 11 years old.
Was that realization “good news” for you or “bad news?”
It was “confusing news” because at that time, it was against the law and you could end up in jail, so you didn’t talk about it. We hid away in the shadows back then. I talk to my friends who are currently in their 80’s and
they did the same thing. We were embarrassed about it. We never really talked about
it back then and we were fine with that. Today, it never really comes up that I’m gay, but I work in the theatre and it’s
just assumed I am and I don’t mind that at all. I’ve never felt a strong urge to scream, “I’m gay, I’m gay, I’m gay!” You take me as I am.
So, when did you start performing?
I started in Australia. I was a tap dancer. At that time, the movie houses would have four showings of a movie a day and in between they would have acts—tap dancers, singers, musical numbers, whatever. I got my training as a tap dancer at the Prince Edward Theatre in Sydney. I then came to Memphis in 1958 to perform in the summer series
at Front Street Theatre before moving here for good in 1960.
Playbills with Fuller’s directorial credit are on display in the glass cases in the lobby of Circuit Playhouse in Memphis.
Did you move to Memphis for a job or to be a performer?
Neither. I just loved Memphis! I had developed good friends here—several that I still have to this day. We octogenarians look after each other!
There is no possible way of counting the number of shows you’ve been a part of here in Memphis as a performer and a director.
Oh God, no. I have no idea! I’ve had a very varied career here in Memphis. Memphis has been very good to me and I love this city very much! I’ve performed with all the major theatre groups here—Playhouse on the Square (in fact, I started with Playhouse in its very first season), Theatre Memphis, Germantown Community Theatre, Ballet Memphis, etc.
You’re also an accomplished director on the professional and collegiate level. You can’t forget the gay hit, Pageant at Circuit Playhouse!
Oh yeah, I’ve directed too! At Rhodes College, I directed Nicholas Nickleby, the first production of Sweeney
Todd, the first production of Company and the only production I know of of Merrily We Roll Along.
Could you ever have predicted when you were younger that you would still be performing at age 89?
No! I’m older than I ever intended to be! I never imagined in my life that I would reach 90 and I’m headed there and still performing!
Do you have any shows coming up?
I don’t have anything at this time, but I plan on auditioning. It’s not easy finding roles for 90-year-old men (laughing), but I’m still looking!