February 8, 1950|
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
|Known for||Billie Jean – Black Girl|
Rémy Tissier (m. 1982)
Peggy Pettitt (born February 8, 1950) is an African American actress, dancer, teacher, playwright and storyteller. Pettitt is best known for her role as Billie Jean in the 1972 family–drama film Black Girl starring alongside Brock Peters and Claudia McNeil . Pettitt is a native of St. Louis, Missouri.
Playwright and Storyteller
The centerpiece of Pettitt’s theater career is a unique style of solo performance rooted in African-American storytelling. She developed this form to portray a spectrum of characters. Related by blood and circumstance, these characters shed light on the multifaceted history of African American men and women. And they tell "stories addressing important issues of our time."  In collaboration with director, Remy Tissier, she has created over ten original full-length plays. These examine issues of domestic violence, sexual abuse, cross-generational differences, voting registration, the Civil Rights Movement, identity and the world HIV/Aids crisis. Titles include Women Preachers, Caught Between the Devil and The Deep Blue Sea, Tricksters: All Over You Like White On Rice, Wrapped Up, Tied Up and Tangled, Mollie Oil BETWIXT, Wild Steps and In The Spirit For Real.
One play was the product of her 2000-01 Fulbright Fellowship to Senegal: The Spirit Factor. An original play, it’s based on the living history and the art of storytelling in West Africa. Yet another play, Voyage, was presented at the Avignon Off Festival in 2010. It explores American history through both the blues and a spiritual heritage that lives along the Mississippi River but originated in West Africa. Ms. Pettitt has presented her work at the Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni Les Rencontres du Bout des Mondes International Festival in 2011 (French Guiana). In addition to the Fulbright Fellowship she has received numerous other grants and awards. These include grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. “Pearls of Wisdom” is a storytelling ensemble of the Elders Share the Arts in N.Y. City. Ms Pettitt is its founding artistic director, and with the Pearls of Widsom she was inducted in 2007 into City Lore's "People's Hall of Fame.”
In 1972, during the era of Blaxploitation movies, Pettitt made her first feature film, Black Girl, in which she played an aspiring young dancer. Pettitt was nominated for Best Actress by the NAACP for her role in Black Girl, written by J.E. Franklin and directed by Ossie Davis. Another of her noteworthy roles was at Lincoln Center as Miss Lindsey in Mule Bone, Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes’ historical comedy. Reviews:
- "Bewitching... subtle and surprisingly affecting poetry...Ms. Pettitt's judgments of her characters are clear-eyed and sharp and so is her judgment of life." —D.J.R. Bruckner, New York Times
- "Ms. Pettitt performs in styles that define her characters as thoroughly as the lines she speaks... remarkable for the resonant simplicity of both words and gestures." —Ben Brantley, New York Times;
- "Her voice works magic." —Tony Slenzant, Morning Call
Peggy Pettitt has professional experience and training in directing storytelling/playmaking workshops. She teaches a step-by-step process of creating, writing and performing original material. Skills she imparts help one transform life experiences into rich theater. And new meaning is gleaned from cultural traditions and history, folklore, songs and improvisations. Partnering with a wide array of organizations, she has helped scores of diverse groups present their own original stories as both theater and storytelling performances. She also works extensively with drama therapists, social workers and educators in public schools.
Both in the U.S. and abroad, Ms Pettitt has worked at numerous schools and educational institutions. Her teaching experience extends, as well, to such facilities as homeless shelters, prisons, drug treatment centers, VA hospitals and both senior and adolescent centers. Additionally she has ample experience working with the emotionally and physically disabled and their families. She currently teaches Self-Scripting at New York University's Experimental Theatre Wing.
Pettitt's grandparents were a big, early influence, telling her memorable stories. As a child, Pettitt also observed various types of people who lived in her neighborhood. She valued greatly the sincere integrity of the working people who made up her community. In 1969, she went to Antioch College, where she was exposed to the difficulties that sometimes surface between people of different races and social classes, and, at the same time, to the unity that can cross these boundaries. In 1974 upon earning a BA with distinction from Antioch she moved to London on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. There, for the first time, she experienced working with diverse populations include working-class Whites and Blacks, the latter mostly young immigrants from the Caribbean. Returning to the United States Pettitt settled in New York City, where she still resides. She has been married since 1982 to writer, director and painter Rémy Tissier.
Awards and honors
- 2008 Story gatherer for "Another River Flows" recipient of the Pennsylvania Human Relation Award
- 2010 Voyage was presented at the Avignon, France Off Festival
- Nominated for an NAACP Image Award for role in Black Girl
- 2007 Ms. Pettitt and the "Pearls of Wisdom" were inducted into New York City Lore's “People’s Hall of Fame”
- Recipient of New York City's Arts In Education Roundtable Award for sustained achievement in theater
- Honored by the William Hodson Senior Center, The Roundtable Senior Center and Elders Share the Arts for "Commitment to the art of storytelling that transforms lives and communities."
- 2011 Performance Space 122 founders and board pioneers 'Shining Star' Award.
Extensive references to Ms Pettitt’s work can be found in several books on theatre, community and solo performance:
- Out of Character, Mark Russell, 1997
- Performing Democracy, Susan Chandler Haedicke, 2004
- Mapping Memories, Pam Schweitzer, 2004
- Local Acts, An International Anthology, Jan Cohen Cruz, 2005
- Ensemble Works,An Anthology Ferdinand Lewis, 2005
- Reminiscence Theatre: Making Theatre from Memory, Pam Schweitzer, 2007
- Forget Memory: Creating Better Lives For People With Dementia, Ann Basting, 2009.
- Mark Russell, ed., Out of Character: Rants, Raves, and Monologues from Today's Top Performance Artists, New York: Bantam, 1997, p. 304.