Kathy A. Perkins

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Kathy A. Perkins (1954-) is an American lighting designer and theatre scholar.


Born in Mobile, Alabama (USA) in 1954, during the era of segregation. Through her parents, teachers, and mentors, she learned the importance of education and love of the arts.

She received her BFA in Drama from Howard University, and her MFA in lighting design from the University of Michigan.

At Michigan she was challenged by a young white male PhD regarding the lack of presence of Blacks behind the scenes. Angered by this comment, Kathy started her research journey investigating Blacks in non-performing areas in the American Theatre, which later expanded to Africa and the Diaspora.

Over the next few decades, Kathy would edit/co-edit six anthologies focusing on women from Africa and the Diaspora, curate a major exhibition on Blacks behind scene, as well as serve as a theatre consultant for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture inaugural exhibition Taking the Stage (2016). She would design lighting for nearly 400 productions throughout the U.S. and internationally.

Kathy has traveled to over forty countries as both designer and lecturer, and is the recipient of numerous research awards, including the Ford Foundation, Fulbright, United States Information Agency (USIA), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT). She is faculty Emerita at Univ. of Illinois and Univ. of North Carolina.

Contribution to South African theatre, film, media and performance

Her interest in South African theatre began when she met and designed lighting for several exiled artists working in the New York beginning in the late 1970s, among them Welcome Msomi and Duma Ndlovu. Through these artists she discovered the parallels between US segregation and South African Apartheid.

In 1995, Kathy made her first trip to South Africa and after this initial visit, would return over a dozen times for design andf other projects, including the designs for the premiere production of Hang on in There, Nelson (1996) at the Windybrow Arts Centre in Johannesburg, A Coloured Place (1998) at The Playhouse in Durban, Natal (now KwaZulu Natal), and the premiere of Fatima Dike's The Middle Passage: A Ritual of Healing (2003) at the Grahamstown Festival and University of Cape Town's Little Theatre. She would also return to Grahamstown to work on a variety of other projects over the years.

Inspired by her travels in Africa, Kathy compiled and published an invaluable collection - Black South African Women: An Anthology of Plays (1998) - which was the first anthology of plays focusing specifically on South African women, and in 2008 she published African Women Playwrights: An Anthology. In 2020 she was made an Honorary Life Member of the African Theatre Association (AfTA) in recognition of her contribution to African theatre studies.


Personal correspondence from Kathy A. Perkins (4 November, 2020).



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