alvin theatre

Black LBGTQ History Icons

Marsha P. Johnson

  • A leader of the Stonewall Riots. According to several eyewitnesses, Marsha was the one who “really started it”. She was “in the middle of the whole thing, screaming and yelling and throwing rocks and almost like Molly Pitcher in the Revolution or something”
  • Dedicated her life to activism:
    • Co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (later renamed Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries)
    • Ensured that the young drag queens, trans women and other street kids on Christopher Street were fed and clothed. Marsha also housed them whenever she could. 
    • In the 1980s, she was an activist and organizer in ACT UP. 

Stormé DeLarverie

  • Also a leader in the Stonewall Riots - has been identified as the “butch lesbian that threw the first punch” against the police officers.
  • Several eye-witnesses recollections also recognize her as the cross-dressing lesbian that yelled “why don’t you guys do something” at the bystanders that evoked the reaction from them that helped make Stonewall a defining moment in history.
  • Unofficially worked at gay bars who otherwise couldn’t afford security.

Bayard Rustin

  • Was a leading strategist of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement between 1955-1968:
    • The formidable behind the scenes figure of the civil rights movement who organized the March on Washington
    • Through his influence, the civil rights leadership adopted a non-violent stance.
    • Is and was often overlooked in African-American history because of the public’s discomfort with his sexual orientation.
  • Supported LGBTQ rights and movements.
  • Was posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy

  • Another leader in the Stonewall Riots.
  • Has been involved in community efforts since 1978. She has worked at local food banks, provide services for trans women suffering from addiction or homelessness. During the AIDS epidemic she also provided healthcare and funeral services.
  • Is currently serving as the Executive Director for the Transgender GenderVariant Intersex Justice Project, working to assist transgender persons who are disproportionately incarcerated under a prison-industrial complex.

Alvin Ailey

  • At the young age of 22, Alvin AIley became Artistic Directer for the Horton Dance Company where he choreographed as well as directed scenes and costume designs.
  • Formed the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in 1958 but continued to choreograph for other companies.
  • Ailey’s signature works prominently reflects his Black pride.
  • Is credited for popularizing modern dance. 
  • Was also posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

Feel free to add anyone I’ve missed!

View of actress Diana Sands and dancer Alvin Ailey in the play, “Tiger, tiger burning bright.” Typed on back: “Diana Sands in ‘Tiger, tiger burning bright’ (with Alvin Ailey).”

  • Courtesy of the E. Azalia Hackley Collection of African Americans in the Performing Arts, Detroit Public Library
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TODAY IN THEATRE HISTORY: In 1959, Carol Burnett begins the path to her Broadway debut as Once Upon a Mattress premieres Off-Broadway at the Phoenix Theatre. George Abbott directs, and Mary Rodgers and Marshall Barer provide the songs. Following a six month run at the Phoenix, the production will transfer to Broadway’s Alvin Theatre, earning Tony nominations for Burnett’s performance and for Best Musical.

For more on the original production of Once Upon a Mattress, including a look inside a Playbill from the show, visit PlaybillVault.com.

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TODAY IN THEATRE HISTORY: In 1960, Lucille Ball drills for oil in Wildcat at the Alvin Theatre. Michael Kidd hat-tricks by producing, directing and choreographing this N. Richard Nash (book), Cy Coleman (in his Broadway debut) and Carolyn Leigh (music and lyrics) tuner. Lucy will leave after 171 performances and the show will close.

For more on Wildcat, including a look inside a Playbill from the show, visit PlaybillVault.com.

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TODAY IN THEATRE HISTORY: In 1962, “Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim” appears in a Broadway Playbill for the first time as A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum opens at the Alvin Theatre. With a book by Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove, and starring Zero Mostel, the production will go on to run for 964 performances, and win the 1963 Tony Award for Best Musical.

For more on the original Broadway production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, including a look inside a Playbill from the show, visit PlaybillVault.com.