Debbie Allen, Producer & Choreographer
Debbie Allen continues to be one of the most respected and versatile talents in the entertainment industry today. The talented and successful actress, director, producer, choreographer, singer and dancer has added the credit of author to her impressive array of merits. Allen has composed two children’s books, titled, Brothers of the Knight and most recently, Dancing in the Wings, both for Penguin Putnam Publishing.
Allen was inspired to write Brothers of the Knight after she staged a musical for the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. called Pepito’s Story, which was loosely based on the classic fairy tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses. After changing the main characters in the musical from girls to boys, Allen came up with the premise for her book. Her most recent Kennedy Center Production in 2000 was Dreams and in 2002, Pearl, an adaption of Snow White also played to SRO crowds.
Allen has moved forward with yet another exciting project proving that she is indeed one of the hardest working individuals in Hollywood. Allen opened the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Culver City, Los Angeles.
Allen’s academy offers a comprehensive curriculum for boys and girls ages four to eighteen in the major dance techniques including Classical Ballet, Modern, African, Peking Opera, Martial Arts dance techniques, Flamenco and Tap. Allen has been able to use her prestige to lure instructors from famous institutions such as the Kirov ballet and the Peking Opera.
In a classic example of “life imitating art,” the Debbie Allen Dance Academy will bring Debbie back to her days where she played the title role of dance instructor “Lydia Grant” on the long-running hit television series Fame. Similar to the show, Allen’s studio provides a haven for kids to go after school where dance professionals motivate and teach them to excel in their style of dance. Debbie plays an active role in each student’s career as a dancer by her hands-on instruction.
Currently, Debbie hosts and produces her own show on cable television’s WE Network called Cool Women where Debbie chronicles the lives of everyday women such as doctors, teachers, and mothers who do extraordinary things. Recently, Allen directed, co-produced, and co-starred with her sister Phylicia Rashad in the critically acclaimed PBS Special The Old Settler, which was originally a play that Rashad discovered a few years ago while in production in a New York theater.
Allen’s film work is also quite extensive with her last project being the successful and highly acclaimed DreamWorks production, Amistad (a.k.a. “Black Mutiny”), a story about a famed mutiny on a slave ship in 1839. This was DreamWorks first project that Steven Spielberg directed with Allen producing. Written by David Franzoni and Academy Award winner Steve Zalilian, Amistad portrayed the dramatic and heroic story that Allen possessed for more than 10 years – a credit to her dedication and passion for this film.
Perseverance and passion are no stranger to Allen, who received favorable notices for her role as Richard Pryor’s feisty wife in the semi-autobiographical film Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling. Her other feature films include Mills Forman’s Ragtime and The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, which she also choreographed. Allen also directed the feature film Out of Sync, starring LL Cool J, Victoria Dillard, Yaphet Kotto, and Howard Hesseman. Set in the underground world of rave music, this film told the story of a down and out DJ trying to get his life back on track.
Allen received two Emmy’s and one Golden Globe for her role as “Lydia Grant” in the hit series, Fame. She then forayed from acting to directing; first with the series Fame, followed by Family Ties and Bronx Zoo, before taking the reins at NBC’s A Different World as director and producer in 1988. Steering the creative thinking toward pertininnent issues on a college campus, Allen’s leadership helped A Different World place in the top five consistently. This, among other credits, continued to establish Allen as one of the most sought after director/producers in the television industry.
Allen got her start on Broadway in the chorus of the show Purlie, which brought her instant recognition. She then performed in Raisin and the 1979 production of West Side Story for which she received the prestigious Dram Desk Award and her first Tony nomination. Allen received another Tony nomination in 1986 for her role as Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity and in 1988 went behind the scenes of the theater to choreograph the new American Musical Carrie with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Also, Allen holds the distinction of having choreographed the Academy Awards for five consecutive years.
In 1992, Allen became Dr. Allen when she was award as honorary doctorate from the North Carolina School of Arts as well as from her alma mater Howard University. She is a board of AFI and a member of the executive committee of the new board of advisors at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television where she directed a play on the UCLA campus titled Wedding Band.