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George C. Wolfe

George C. Wolfe

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Also Known As: George Wolfe, George Costello Wolfe Died:
Born: September 23, 1954 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Frankfort, Kentucky, USA Profession: artistic director, director, theater administrator, lyricist, playwright, producer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Playwright-director-producer George C Wolfe grew up in the segregated city of Frankfort, Kentucky and received an early exposure to Gotham at the tender age of 12, accompanying his mother while she was taking doctoral courses in education at New York University during the summer of 1967. He attended Broadway performances of "Hello, Dolly!" with Pearl Bailey and a revival of "West Side Story" which knocked him out and pointed him in the direction of his life's work. Escaping to California from Kentucky, he taught acting in addition to writing and directing for small theaters in the Los Angeles area before moving to NYC in 1979, eventually enrolling in the masters program in dramatic writing and musical theater at NYU. While at NYU, he started the play that would catch Papp's attention, "The Colored Museum." This stinging satire on black stereotypes opened to critical raves at the Public in 1986 although some within the black community were offended by the characters presented. After winning an OBIE for his direction of "Spunk" (1989-90), which he had adapted from three stories by Zora Neale Hurston, Wolfe earned his first Tony nominations for the book and direction of "Jelly's Last Jam" (1992), a...

Playwright-director-producer George C Wolfe grew up in the segregated city of Frankfort, Kentucky and received an early exposure to Gotham at the tender age of 12, accompanying his mother while she was taking doctoral courses in education at New York University during the summer of 1967. He attended Broadway performances of "Hello, Dolly!" with Pearl Bailey and a revival of "West Side Story" which knocked him out and pointed him in the direction of his life's work. Escaping to California from Kentucky, he taught acting in addition to writing and directing for small theaters in the Los Angeles area before moving to NYC in 1979, eventually enrolling in the masters program in dramatic writing and musical theater at NYU. While at NYU, he started the play that would catch Papp's attention, "The Colored Museum." This stinging satire on black stereotypes opened to critical raves at the Public in 1986 although some within the black community were offended by the characters presented. After winning an OBIE for his direction of "Spunk" (1989-90), which he had adapted from three stories by Zora Neale Hurston, Wolfe earned his first Tony nominations for the book and direction of "Jelly's Last Jam" (1992), a musical about the life of jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton. He then became the first black director of a Broadway production that was not black-themed when he helmed Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about politics, AIDS and religion "Angels in America: Millennium Approaches," winning the 1993 Tony as Director of a Play. He picked up another Tony nomination the following year for staging the second part of Kushner's epic, "Angels in America: Perestroika," and garnered two more Tony nods in 1996 for helming "The Tempest," starring Patrick Stewart, and the Savion Glover dance musical "Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk," winning for the latter. The magic ran out with his 1998 revival of "On the Town" when his controversial decision to replace Jerome Robbins' signature choreography came back to haunt him, and though critical response was slightly better for "The Wild Party" (2000), which he directed and co-scripted, it paled in comparison to his triumphs in the 90s. Wolfe became one of the Public's three resident directors in 1990 and replaced Papp's hand-picked successor JoAnne Akalaitis after her troubled 20-month tenure in 1993, becoming the only person besides Papp in the theater's history to hold the title of producer. In the first five years after taking over the theater's reins, he saw its endowments quadruple from $10 million to $40 million. Though criticized in some circles for championing his own projects more than the other works at the Public, Wolfe proved an able administrator, returning the institution to the black by 1995 after seven years of operating at a deficit. As producer, his decision to move "The Tempest" to Broadway for a limited run netted a modest $325,000, while moving "Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk" to Broadway and the unprecedented decision to promote the show's national tour as well amounted to a huge windfall for America's most influential and powerful not-for-profit theater. After directing a successful revival of "On the Town," Wolfe wrote and directed "The Wild Party" and directed the one-woman smash "Elaine Stritch at Liberty." Wolfe returned to television and film infrequently but successfully, directing the TV movie "Lackawanna Blues" (2005), romance "Nights in Rodanthe" (2008), and tearjerker "You're Not You" (2013). (Wolfe also acted in a small role in the hit comedy "The Devil Wears Prada" (2006).) After directing well-received revivals of "Mother Courage and her Children" and "The Normal Heart," Wolfe wrote and directed acclaimed musical "Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed," one of the biggest hits of the 2015-16 Broadway season.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

2.
4.
  Lackawanna Blues (2005) Director
5.
  Elaine Stritch at Liberty (2004) Director (Stage)
6.
  In the Wings: Angels in America on Broadway (1993) Stage Director ("Angels In America")
7.
  Fires in the Mirror (1993) Director
9.
  Colored Museum, The (1991) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
2.
 Theater of War (2008)
3.
4.
 Garden State (2004) Restaurant Manager
5.
 Fresh Kill (1994) Cat Lover
6.
 Finding Christa (1992) Himself
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Milestones close milestones

1991:
Co-directed and adapted "The Colored Museum" for PBS' "Great Performances"
2000:
Co-wrote (with Michael John LaChiusa) and directed the musical, "The Wild Party"
:
Enrolled in summer theater program at Miami University in Oxford, OH
1997:
Profiled in PBS documentary, "Signature: George C. Wolfe"
1994:
Re-teamed with Anna Deveare Smith to stage her acclaimed, "Twilight: Los Angeles 1992"
:
Taught at City College of New York and the Richard Allen Center for Cultural Art
1989:
Wrote "Hunger Chic," a 30-minute comedy directed by Buck Henry; broadcast as part of the PBS anthology series, "Trying Times"
1993:
Assumed leadership of the Public Theatre; became first person in its history other than Joseph Papp to have the title of producer
1993:
Directed an American Playhouse (PBS) adaptation of Anna Deveare Smith's play, "Fires in the Mirror"
1978:
Directed first play "Summer Suns/Tales of Night" at the Inner City Cultural Center
1996:
Helmed the NYSF production of "The Tempest," starring Patrick Stewart; also directed the Broadway production that same year
2001:
Directed the stage play, "Topdog/Underdog"
:
Spent three years working at the Inner City Cultural Center in Los Angeles, CA
1996:
Won a Tony for directing the musical, "Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk"
1993:
Became the first black director of a Broadway production that was not black-themed, Tony Kushner's "Angels in America: Millennium Approaches"
2005:
Directed first feature, an adaptation of Ruben Santiago-Hudson's play, "Lackawanna Blues," which aired on HBO
1978:
Wrote the play, "Back Alley Tales," which was produced at the Inner City Cultural Center in Los Angeles, CA
1986:
Penned the off-Broadway play, "The Colored Museum," which opened at the Public Theatre's Susan Stein Shiva Theater; also wrote lyrics
1998:
Produced Arthur Miller's "The Ride Down Mt. Morgan" at the Public Theatre; show moved to Broadway in 2000
1991:
Wrote the book and staged the musical "Jelly's Last Jam," about jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton at L.A.'s Mark Taper Forum
1989:
Adapted "Spunk" from three stories by Zora Neale Hurston; was produced at L.A.'s Mark Taper Forum
1975:
Had first success as a playwright with "Up for Grabs" while still enrolled in college
1994:
Helmed the New York Shakespeare Festival (NYSF) production of Oliver Mayer's "Blade to the Heat"
1995:
Served as producer of Michael John LaChiusa's musical, "The Petrified Prince"
1992:
Directed a revised version of "Jelly's Last Jam" on Broadway; also directed the behind-the-scenes PBS special, "Jammin': Jelly Roll Morton on Broadway"
1993:
Staged the second half of Kushner's play, "Angels in America: Perestroika"
1985:
Wrote the book and lyrics for the off-Broadway musical, "Paradise!"
2011:
Co-directed with Joel Grey, the revival of Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart"; earned a Tony nomination for Best Direction of a Play
1977:
Encouraged by C. Bernard Jackson, the executive director of the Inner City Cultural Center in Los Angeles, to stage one of his early projects, "Tribal Rites, or The Coming of the Great God-bird Nabuku to the Age of Horace Lee Lizer"
2002:
Directed "Elaine Stritch At Liberty" at the Neil Simon Theatre
2004:
Directed Tony Kushner's "Caroline, or Change"
2006:
Directed a new translation of Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children" at the Delacorte Theatre
2008:
Directed a feature adaptation of Nicholas Sparks' novel, "Nights in Rodanthe"
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Education

Frankfort High School: Frankfort, Kentucky -
Kentucky State University: Frankfort, Kentucky -
Pomona College: Claremont, California -
New York University: New York, New York -

Notes

In 1995, Wolfe was named a "living landmark" by the New York Landmarks Conservancy

Wolfe was honored as a Library Lion by the New York Public Library in 1997.

"When 'The Colored Museum' happened, all these mediocre Negroes who regard themselves as the guardians of black culture attacked me because they thought I was attacking people that shouldn't be done. They didn't understand my arrogance, my belief that the culture I come from is so strong it can withstand public scrutiny. I don't view black culture as a fragile thing ...


Even as psychological and intellectual mutilations take place, as long as there's still a cultural base, anything that anybody writes or says or does is strong enough to withstand these violations. You know, about eight years ago, I saw a picture of my great-great-great-grandmother, who must have been about 90 years old, who'd come over as a slave. Well that ended all discussions of inferiority--ended it. It connected me so far back. It made it very tangible and very real. There has never been any question about who I am." --George C. Wolfe, quoted in BOMB, Winter 1994

"Producing has empowered me as an artist in a specific way. It's forced a certain kind of maturity. My sight has gotten sharper, I've gotten a whole lot of muscles I'm learning how to use. Also, growing up, I was indocrinated to the the idea that it's not enough to get yours. You still have a resposibilty to help other people. I know how to survive, and so many artists don't know how to survive and protect their work. I'm tough." --Wolfe to Alex Witchel in The New York Times Magazine, November 8, 1998

About seeing "West Side Story" on his first visit to New York: "I was completely transformed by it. I think the quintet in 'West Side' probably liberated a certain esthetic inside of me--seeing that empty stage and five different realities, I remember leaning forward and watching that sequence in a different way than I watched the rest of the play. It was like something popped in my brain. You don't have to think 'this' way about theater, you can think 'this' way." --Wolfe in The New York Times Magazine, November 8, 1998

Family close complete family listing

grandmother:
Addie President. Maternal grandmother.
father:
Costello Wolfe. Government clerk. Worked for the Department of Corrections in Frankfort, Kentucky.
mother:
Anna Wolfe. Educator. Was principal at the all-black private elementary school that Wolfe attended in Frankfort; died December 1996 of heart disease.
brother:
William Wolfe. Social worker. Kidney donor for Wolfe's transplant operation; lives in Philadelphia; born c 1947.
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