|Born||1938 - 2003
Merchantville, New Jersey, United States
|Spouse(s)||Frances Gooding Chapman (divorced)|
Early life and education
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1938, Evans was an only child, raised by his mother, Mary Evans. After serving in the United States Marine Corps, he attended Cheyney State College, where he majored in secondary English education. He went on to Temple University, earning an Master of Arts in education and an Master of Fine Arts in theater arts.
In 1971 Evans began teaching at Trenton State College (now The College of New Jersey), where he chaired the Afro-American Studies Department from 1971 to 1983. During this time, Evans directed such plays as The Taking of Miss Janie by Ed Bullins and August Wilson's Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. He also taught courses in African-American literature and drama, jazz, and playwriting. Evans was a visiting professor at nearby Rutgers University and Princeton University, and worked from 1978-1998 with his friend and fellow playwright August Wilson in forming the Black Theatre Summit at Dartmouth College, from which was formed the African Grove Institute for the Arts.
Don Evans studied acting, directing, and playwriting at the Hagen-Berghof Studios in New York City from 1969 to 1970, during which time he also taught English and Drama at Princeton High School in Princeton, New Jersey. An integral part of the Black Arts movement of the 1970s, Evans had his first plays, the one acts Orrin and Sugarmouth Sam Don’t Dance No More performed in 1972 at the Crossroads Theatre, a professional playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In 1976 he wrote It’s Showdown Time, a raucous adaptation of William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. In 1978, Evans wrote Mahalia, his first musical, a portrait of Gospel vocalist Mahalia Jackson. Louis, Evans' musical portrayal of jazz legend Louis Armstrong, was written in 1981. Other works include The Trials and Tribulations of Staggerlee Booker T. Brown, One Monkey Don't Stop No Show a tragi-comic look at a middle-class black family, and A Lovesong for Miss Lydia,  described by the New York Times as "a Pinteresque encounter of two elderly people." Evans wrote his final play, When Miss Mollie Hit the Triple Bars, in 1999. It was based on the life of his mother, Mary.
Over the course of his career, Don Evans received playwriting fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New Jersey Council of the Arts, and the New Jersey Historical Society. Evans has a total of six plays in publication, and a total of eighteen have been produced the world over, in such countries as Germany, England and Hong Kong. He also served, from 1983 to 1988, as artistic director for the Karamu House in Cleveland, Ohio. Don Evans was honored as AMPARTS Fellow for the United States Information Agency to India in 1984. He died at the age of 65 of a heart attack on October 16, 2003 at his home in Merchantville, New Jersey.
List of Plays
- Sugarmouth Sam Don't Dance No More
- The Trials and Tribulations of Staggerlee Booker T. Brown
- The Prodigals
- One Monkey Don't Stop No Show.
- Sugarmouth Sam Don't Dance No More
- Matters of Choice
- It's Showdown Time
- A Lovesong for Miss Lydia
- Louis (musical based on the life of Louis Armstrong)
- Mahalia (musical biography of Mahalia Jackson)
- One Monkey Don't Stop No Show
- What Harriet Did
- Honky Tonk
- When Miss Mollie Hit the Triple Bars
Notes and references
- Playbill article
- Karamu House Official Website
- Biography, partial list of plays City-Data
- Globe News Wire article
- Website for the Unity Theatre Ensemble
- Tribute Site for Don Evans