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Celebrating Black History Month
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Celebrating Black History Month: Spotlight on Trailblazer Vinnette Carroll

Carroll is best known for being the first African-American woman to direct on Broadway.

This February, BroadwayWorld is committed to celebrating the outstanding contributions that black artists have made to the American theatre. Join us for Black History month as we shine a spotlight on some of the most influential theatre-makers from Broadway's past.

Today is all about trailblazing director Vinnette Carroll.

Who is Vinnette Carroll?

Vinnette Carroll was an American playwright, actress, and theatre director best known for being the was the first African-American woman to direct on Broadway, with her 1972 production of the musical Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope. Until Liesl Tommy's 2016 nomination for Eclipsed, Carroll was the only African-American woman to have received a Tony Award nomination for direction.

Carroll founded the Urban Arts Corps, a nonprofit, interracial community theater where, as artistic director, she was able to provide a professional workshop for aspiring young actors in underserved communities. She produced over 100 plays through the Urban Arts Corps from her loft theatre on West 20th Street in Manhattan. The theater was a member of the Black Theater Alliance and the Off-Off Broadway Alliance, and was supported by the New York State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment of the Arts, the Edward Noble Foundation, and CBS.

Vinnette Carroll on stage...

Carroll's first stage appearance was at the New School for Social Research in 1948. She performed in many of the school's productions, including roles as Clytemmnestra in Agamemnon, the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet, and the Duchess in Alice in Wonderland. Carroll made her professional stage debut as a Christian in a summer stock production of George Bernard Shaw's Androcles and the Lion at the Southold Playhouse on Long Island. She played Addie in Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes and then, in 1949, Bella in Arnaud d'Ussaeu and James Gow's Deep Are the Roots.

She made her London stage debut at The Royal Court Theatre on December 4, 1958, as Sophia Adams in Moon on a Rainbow Shawl. She then won an Obie Award for her role in Errol John's Moon on a Rainbow Shawl. In February 1963, she returned to London as the Narrator in Black Nativity at the Piccadilly Theatre.

Which plays did Vinnette Carroll direct?

During her era, Carroll was one of the few women directing in commercial theatre. Her philosophy of directing and her technique for creating her folk plays reflect similar theories, ideas, and aesthetic principles to those of Bertolt Brecht.

In 1972, she became the first African-American woman to direct on Broadway with her staging of Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope. The hit gospel revue was conceived by Carroll, with music and lyrics by Micki Grant. It was nominated for four Tony Awards. In 1976, she collaborated with Grant and Alex Bradford on Your Arms Too Short to Box with God, which garnered three Tony nominations. This show was an adaptation of the Gospel According to Matthew.

Her other directing credits include: The Prodigal Son, Black Nativity, Desire Under the Elms, Your Arms Too Short to Box with God, and But Never Jam Today.

What is Vinnette Carroll's legacy?

Carroll moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, during the 1980s. There, she founded the Vinnette Carroll Repertory Company, where she remained as artistic director and producer until her failing health forced her to retire in 2001.

She died of heart disease and diabetes in Lauderhill, Florida, on November 5, 2002, at the age of 80.

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