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Wolfe, George C. (b. 1954)  
 
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Director, writer, and producer George C. Wolfe has had a distinguished career in the theater. Among the numerous awards and prizes that he has garnered are two Tony Awards.

In addition to directing such important works as Tony Kushner's Angels in America, Wolfe has also written a number of plays and musicals, several of which have had successful runs on Broadway.

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Since 1993, he has been the producer and artistic director of the New York Shakespeare Festival and the Joseph Papp Public Theater, positions that give him one of the most influential voices in American theater.

Origins in Kentucky

Wolfe was born on September 23, 1954 in Frankfort, Kentucky, a segregated city at the time. He recalls the "very tight black community" in which he grew up as nurturing. As a child, he says, he "was told that [he] was magical . . . special and extraordinary," and he "grew up with no concept of racial inferiority."

He did, however, encounter racism. He experienced what he called a "defining event" when, at age seven, he could not get into Frankfort's Capitol Theater to see the animated Disney film 101 Dalmations because he was black.

He used his altogether justified outrage in a positive manner. He determined to strive for excellence in everything he did so that he could get "into any place [he] wanted to get into." He adds that "it was also a given that once I got into the room, I was supposed to open the windows and doors and let in other people."

As a young child Wolfe attended the private all-black school where his mother taught and later was principal. Eventually, when the family moved and Wolfe began going to an integrated school, he felt rather isolated until he started directing plays in high school.

Wolfe says that he was "obsessed with theater." Beginning at an early age, he wrote his own plays. At twelve he saw his first Broadway shows, including a particularly memorable production of Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly! starring Pearl Bailey.

After high school, Wolfe enrolled at historically-black Kentucky State University, the alma mater of his parents, Costello and Anna Lindsey Wolfe. Following his first year, he transferred to Pomona College in California, where he studied theater.

The Move to California

In 1975 Wolfe's play Up for Grabs was performed at Pomona College, and was chosen as the Pacific Southern Regional winner at the American College Theater Festival (ACTF). The following year, the college staged his Block Party, which earned Wolfe a second ACTF award.

After his graduation in 1976, Wolfe remained in California, teaching at the Inner City Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where his plays Tribal Rites and Back Alley Tales were staged in the 1978-1979 season.

Wolfe's experience in Los Angeles taught him the uses of theater as a political and social force. It also brought him into contact with communities that he had not encountered back in Frankfort--Hispanics, Asians, and gays. In this setting, he began coming out publicly.

The Move to New York

Wolfe achieved something of a cult following in Los Angeles, but in 1979 he moved to New York, where he taught at City College and the Richard Allen Center for Cultural Art while studying at New York University, from which he received a master's degree in dramatic writing in 1983.

Wolfe's musical Paradise, produced off-Broadway in 1985, turned out to be a critical failure, but his next play, The Colored Museum, won the admiration of Joseph Papp, the director of the New York Shakespeare Festival, who included it in the program at the festival's Public Theater in 1986.

One of the play's eleven vignettes, "The Gospel According to Miss Roj," features a feisty drag queen character, a fierce black snap queen who rages against exploitation and indifference.

The satirical Colored Museum was not universally hailed. Some African Americans viewed the play as anti-black. It was a success with the critics, however, and Wolfe won the Dramatists' Guild's Elizabeth Hull-Kate Warriner Award for the best play dealing with a controversial social, political or religious topic.

Three years later, Wolfe received critical acclaim for his play Spunk, an adaptation of three stories by Zora Neale Hurston. He also won an Obie as best director of an off-Broadway production.

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