To celebrate Black History month, we have gathered a small, yet significant list of Black playwrights on Broadway. Here are their names and accolades!
Black Playwrights on Broadway
The play, titled “Don’t Judge by Your Appearance,” follows a construction worker falsely accused of raping a white woman. Despite the play, black playwrights didn’t make it onto Broadway until the 1920s. The latter, Anderson’s first, was written in 1924, inspired by a staging of Channing Pollock’s The Fool. It became the first non-musical to be produced on Broadway, followed by Garland and Anderson, who appeared in the second act of a first three-act play, which was performed in 1925.
Anderson tried to win support for his play after seeking a producer, and gave readings in New York City and Los Angeles. He raised $15,000 for the production and even visited President Calvin Coolidge when funding ran out before it opened on Broadway in 1925.
Deep South tragedies would be the first play by a black playwright to have a broad success. Lorraine Hansberry would be the first black playwright to perform the play on Broadway as Rosin ‘Under the Sun in 1959.
Actress and singer Juanita Hall became the first African-American woman to win a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1961 for her performance in the Broadway production of “The Lady and the Lion.”
Hall’s early career was spent between 1935 and 1944 singing and directing the Works Progress Administration (WPA) choir. In 1937 she was cast in the first Broadway production of “The Woman and the Lion” and in 1940 she was tapped again for a role in the second production. After a short career as a nightclub singer she appeared in a number of musical theatre productions in New York City and Los Angeles.
The achievements of Lloyd Richards, the first black director of the New York Public Theater of which he was a founding member, and August Wilson, who discovered him, are too numerous. Richards was also born in Chicago, a city with a long history of black actors and directors of musical theater.
He was also the first black director to be nominated for best director of a play, and won the category in 1987 when he became one of three directors of the Broadway production Fences that he won. Twelve years earlier, Geoffrey Holder had become the first black director to win the best director award for a musical with his production of “The Wiz.”
Actor Charles Gordone, who won an Obie Award for his performance in the black production “Mice and Men,” wrote his first award-winning play, “There’s a Place for Somebody,” inspired by his time as a waiter at a Greenwich Village tavern. The civil rights story follows a black bartender who tries to outsmart a syndicate of white mobs.
Gordon’s play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1969, making Gordon, who marked his name with an “E” on the list of members of the Actors Equity Association after seeing Charles Gordon in it, the first black playwright to win the prestigious award. The play also has the distinction of being the first Broadway play to win a Pulitzer Prize. It was performed at the New York Public Theater for two years before moving to the Morosco Theatre on Broadway in 1971.