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Celebrating African American Theatre Icons

by | Jan 31, 2023 | Blog, Home Page

February is Black History Month and Drama Kids is celebrating by honoring some of the most influential African American Icons in theatre!

The first known play by an African American was James Brown’s “King Shotaway”  in 1823. William Wells Brown’s “The Escape; or, A Leap for Freedom”  was the first African American play published in 1858, but the first real success of a black dramatist was Angelina W. Grimké’s “Rachel” in 1916.

Black theater companies began emerging in Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C. Among these was the Ethiopian Arts Theatre, from which Paul Robeson rose to become the foremost Black Actor in America. But Black theater did not create a Broadway hit until 1935 with the Langston Hughes’ play, “Mulatto.” Soon to follow were talents like Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee.

In 1947, German composer Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes worked together on the first major interracial Broadway collaboration: ‘Street Scene’(1947). To ensure the authenticity of the music, Hughes took Weill to Harlem nightclubs and introduced him to the latest jazz and blues idioms.

Two of the biggest names in black theater from the 1960s and 1970s were Everett LeRoi Jones and Ed Bullins who both became fierce proponents of the Black Arts Movement.

During the 1980s and ’90s August Wilson, Suzan-Lori Parks, and George Wolfe were among the most important creators of Black theatre. Their plays celebrated the history of the Black/African American experience in the arts and culture at different points in US history.

More recently, black actors have been playing leading roles. These include Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Grainger in ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ (2015); Christiani Pitts as Ann Darrow in ‘King Kong’(2018); Jelani Alladin as Kristoff in ‘Frozen’(2018) and Brittney Johnson as the first black woman to play Glinda the Good Witch in ‘Wicked’(2019), an adaptation of ‘Wizard of Oz.

Learn, develop, and create with Drama Kids International. To learn more about how the Drama Kids program can provide a quality after-school drama education to your child, contact your local DK today!

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