Feb. 23, 2007
Vinie Burrows Celebrates Pioneering Black Actress In Show At UI
The University of Iowa Darwin Turner Action Theater will welcome veteran actress/peace activist Vinie Burrows for a free performance of her solo show, "Black on the Great White Way: The Story of Rose McClendon," at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 8, in Theatre B of the University of Iowa Theatre Building.
"Black on the Great White Way: The Story of Rose McClendon" celebrates the distinguished African-American actress and theater organizer of the 1920s and '30s who was dubbed the "sepia Barrymore." The performance is part of Women's History Month.
Paul Robeson called Rose McClendon "the leading actress of the Negro race." Langston Hughes wrote his play "Mulatto" specifically for her, and she performed in the debut production of "Porgy." In 1935 she was a co-founder of the Negro People's Theatre.
A post-show panel discussion will take place in the Theatre Building café, moderated by Department of Theatre Arts faculty member Sydne Mahone. Participants will be Burrows; Lena Hill, a faculty member in English and African/American Studies whose specialty is the Harlem Renaissance; novelist Venise Barry from the School of Journalism and African/American Studies; and theater faculty member Tisch Jones.
Burrows will be at the UI for two week to work on the further development of the show, with Jones as director and Mahone as dramaturg.
Burrows began her career as a child actress on Broadway with Helen Hayes. Since then she has performed in another half-dozen shows on Broadway, many Off-Broadway productions and international theater festival in Paris and Berlin. Along the way she has collaborated with prominent actors including Mary Martin, Claude Rains, Ossie Davis, James Earl Jones, Franchot Tone, Eartha Kitt, Ben Gazzara and Louis Gossett Jr.
On television she has been featured on "As the World Turns," "Days of Our Lives," "The Today Show," "Good Morning America" and "The Hallmark Hall of Fame." She was an Emmy nominee for her narration of "The Amistad Revolt," a video for youth, and her commitment to human rights was recognized with the Paul Robeson Award from Actors Equity.
While the major thrust of her life has been to carry the message of peace, justice and reconciliation through theater, Burrows expanded her political and social effectiveness as the permanent representative for the Women's International Democratic Federation -- a non-governmental organization (NGO) -- to the United Nations.
As a young performer, Burrows was undaunted by the dearth of quality roles on the legitimate stage for Black performers. She he created her own solo productions and now has a repertoire of eight one-woman shows. She successfully booked, produced and directed her shows over many years.
These performance pieces have been sponsored on more than 5,000 college campuses and featured on international tours of Holland, Germany, Denmark, Rumania, the United Kingdom, Algeria, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Japan and Russia.
Darwin Turner Action Theatre (DTAT) is a UI tradition that stretches back more nearly 40 years to the civil-rights and black-power eras. Since its founding as Black Action Theatre (BAT) in the 1960s, the group has exposed Iowa audiences to African-American culture through performance.
As an activity of a course jointly listed by the Department of Theatre Arts and the African-American World Studies program, BAT produced many of the most famous plays in African-American dramatic literature, as well as original works. DTAT has continued the efforts of social and cultural awareness, but has become more inclusive, expanding to reflect Iowa's increasingly diverse cultural and social reality.
The group changed its name to honor the late Darwin T. Turner, the Black studies pioneer who was the chair of the UI Department of African-American World Studies. Turner was recognized as the "Dean of Black Dramaturgy." Under his leadership, the UI was a trailblazer in the field of African-American studies.
The free performance is sponsored by UI Department of Theatre Arts, the African-American Studies Program, the Center for Ethnic Studies and the Arts in the Department of American Studies, and Hands Jewelers.
The Department of Theatre Arts is a unit of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, of which African-American Studies and American Studies are also academic units.
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