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Wolfe, George C. (b. 1954)  
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Papp selected Wolfe, clearly a rising star in the theater world, to be a resident director at the Public Theater in early 1990. Wolfe's play Blackout was included among the theater's offerings in the next season.

Success on Broadway

At the same time that he was directing at the Public Theater, Wolfe, renowned for his seemingly boundless energy, was bringing to fruition a project on which he had been working for four years, a musical about the life of jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton.

Jelly's Last Jam opened in Los Angeles in 1991, and the next year moved to Broadway, where it garnered eleven Tony nominations, including best book of a musical and best director.

Up to this point Wolfe had directed plays with mostly African-American characters and themes. This changed in 1993, when Tony Kushner asked him to direct the Broadway production of his much-acclaimed AIDS drama, Angels in America: The Millennium Approaches.

When Wolfe's direction--which New York Times critic Frank Rich described as being of "crystalline lucidity"--earned him a Tony, he became the first person of color to win the award for directing a "white" play.

The production earned three other Tony Awards, five Drama Desk Awards--including one for Wolfe as best director--and the New York Drama Critics Award. Wolfe went on to direct the second part of Angels, Perestroika, the following year.

Artistic Director and Producer

Meanwhile, Wolfe had taken on a new and daunting task as artistic director and producer of the New York Shakespeare Festival and the Joseph Papp Public Theater.

Following the death of its founder, Papp, in 1991, the institution was administered by artistic director JoAnne Akalaitis and producing director Jason Steven Cohen. Dissension was rife within the organization, however, particularly with regard to the work of Akalaitis. In 1993, the board of directors decided to relieve her of her duties and give the artistic direction role to Wolfe, who would also serve as producer, thus making him the principal administrator of the enterprise.

Wolfe's mission was two-fold: he was responsible for the budget and organizational structure and also for the artistic vision of the theater.

Wolfe was able to increase the theater's endowment considerably and to balance its budget. In the wake of the economic downturn and the events of September 11, 2001, funding has fallen off, but Wolfe remains optimistic about the institution's future.

As artistic director, Wolfe wanted to "create a theater that looks, feels and smells like America." Accordingly, he has sought to reach beyond the Public Theater's traditional clientele group--"uptown white"--and attract black, Asian, and Hispanic spectators as well.

Commitment to Diversity

Early on, he introduced a community affairs department to attract new theater-goers, including inner-city children, to the Public. In the effort to promote such diversity, Wolfe chose plays such as Oliver Mayer's Blade to the Heat, about black and Latino fighters and a murder, and Chay Yew's A Language of Their Own, about four gay men, two of them Chinese.

Wolfe speaks of hoping to create positive "cultural collisions" among members of the audience at the Public by offering plays that will appeal to different segments of society.

Wolfe's own musical Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk was presented at the Public, and then moved to Broadway, where it earned Wolfe his second Tony Award in 1996. The Public Theater then sponsored a national tour for the play. Taking a show on the road was a new and controversial move for the organization, but the gamble paid off when the production was well-received around the country.

In the late 1990s Wolfe faced a serious health problem caused by kidney failure. After a year on dialysis, he had an organ transplant. His older brother, William Wolfe, was the donor. With characteristic energy, Wolfe kept working throughout the health crisis, citing the ethic instilled in him by his family: "keep delivering."

Recent Projects

Among Wolfe's recent projects have been three musicals, The Wild Party, Harlem Song, and Caroline, or Change, and an acclaimed drama.

The Wild Party is based on a 1928 poem by Joseph Moncure March. Wolfe wrote the book for the musical in collaboration with Michael John LaChiusa, who also provided the music and lyrics.

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