Kathy Perkins in front of her personal collection of African Masks

(Photo by

Jeremy McKellar)

Kathy Perkins: A Tale of Two Passions

by Yvette Heyliger

Kathy Perkins is a master of lighting, both as a designer and as a scholar. She has designed lights for theatrical productions throughout the U.S. and internationally. In a world where some mistakenly think that the first Black woman playwright was Lorraine Hansberry, she has also brought to light the works of African American women playwrights prior to the 1950s, plays by women from the African Diaspora and the accomplishments of Black people behind the scenes in the theater in general. She is equally passionate about both of her vocations as this article will reveal, but first a little about her early influences.

Perkins was born in Mobile, Alabama at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. She was very active in her church, singing in the choir, playing piano and performing in plays. She was also active in the local civil rights group, which had a drama division that performed plays exploring issues relevant to her community. After school and on the weekends, when she wasn’t working on a play, she would join in protests boycotting businesses that discriminated against African Americans. She was also one of the earlier students to integrate the local high school, where she joined the drama club.

Discovery of Her First Passion: Lighting Design

For Black students who wanted to major in theater in college during the seventies, the only imaginable job in theater for them was on the stage as an actor. Few knew of any other options. So, when the time came, Perkins left Alabama to major in acting at Howard University in Washington, DC, a premier institution for dramatic study for African Americans. Once there, Perkins got a reality check. "I was a good actor in my little fishbowl in Alabama," she recalled, but admits to having to give "props" to the fierce talent of her college classmates.... (continued)

To finish reading this article, purchase your subscription today and get this article and the rest of Vol. 24, no. 2 for FREE!

Yvette Heyliger is a published playwright, pro-ducing artist and activist. She is a recipient of the National Black Theatre Festival's Emerging Pro-ducer Award, the AUDELCO Recognition Award for Excellence in Black Theatre's August Wilson Play-wright Award, and a Best Playwright nomination from the NAACP's Annual Theatre Awards, among others. Her new book, What a Piece of Work Is Man: Full-Length Plays for Leading Women, is now available at your preferred bookseller.


Spring Summer 2018

This article is featured in Vol. 24, No. 2

Also in this issue:

  • August Wilson Society Collo-quium Scores Big in Pittsburgh

  • In Memoriam: Gertrude Jean-nette, Ted Shine, and Reg E. Cathey

  • Editor's Notes: Seasonal Hopes

  • Arts Hotline

    To order this issue, send check or money order for $4.00 to

    Black Masks
    P.O. Box 6642
    Tallahassee, FL 32314
  • Subscribe Now!

    Have Black Masks delivered directly to your home.

    A scholar of international acclaim, Per-kins is pictured here with Ghanaian playwright Ama Ata Aidoo.