A beacon of avant-garde theatre, Laurie Carlos passed away from colon cancer December 29, 2016, at age 67; she had been diagnosed with the disease in September.
Born in New York City, Carlos came from artistic roots. Her father was a drummer for greats including B.B. King, Bo Diddley, and Jackie Wilson. She graduated from New York’s High School of Performing Arts and became employed as a casting director for actor Harry Belafonte.
Carlos made her Broadway debut in 1976 as Lady in Blue in for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange, who earned a Tony nomination for the play. Carlos was part of the original Obie-winning cast. She also appeared in the original company of Shange’s Spell No. 7 at the Public Theater.
But Carlos’ talents were not limited to performing. She made a name for herself as a director and playwright, writing such works as White Chocolate (for My Father), The Cooking Show, Organdy Falsetto, Vanquished by Voodoo, and Nonsectarian Conversations with the Dead. She was known for her poetry and lyricism in her pieces. She served a stint as the co-artistic director of Movin’ Spirits Dance Theater Company. Dedicated to dance, she won two New York Dance and Performance Bessie Awards as a choreographer for her own plays.
During the 1990s, Carlos relocated in the Twin Cities, working at the Walker Art Center and the Guthrie Theater. In 1998, she began producing for Penumbra Theatre Company with the goal of bringing more female voices to the stage. Carlos believed in mentoring young artists, and was active with Naked Stages and the Jerome Foundation.
Her final performance was that of the narrator for the puppet play In the Heart of the Beast in St. Paul, MN. She was hospitalized after the first weekend of performances.
She is survived by her daughter, Ambersunshower Smith, her sisters Donna, Riki, and Nevely Smith, her brother, Iya Mariano Malango, and grandchildren Zion, Tecumseh, and Asher Smith.