Boyd Vance, the city's most prominent African American stage actor, director and producer, died Saturday night. He was 47.
Vance had been hospitalized for several days after heart surgery and died of an aortal aneurysm.
Vance starred in more than 40 Austin shows, including "Cabaret" and "Bubbling Brown Sugar," and in the comedy troupe Esther's Follies. He also appeared in nearly 500 performances as the flamboyant hairdresser in Zachary Scott Theatre's "Shear Madness." In 2004, he was inducted into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame.
"Through the theater, Boyd wanted to keep the African American experience in the forefront in Austin," said Dewy Brooks, who founded Pro Arts Collective, a black arts group, with Vance in 1993, "especially for those who had never experienced theater before."
Vance was born July 9, 1957, in Houston. He came to Austin in 1973 to attend St. Stephen's Episcopal School. Ten years later, he received his bachelor's degree in English from the University of Texas.
His directing career began in 1984 with "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" at Huston-Tillotson University. He directed more than 50 productions, including an acclaimed staging of Anna Deveare Smith's documentary "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992" at the State Theater in February.
In 1993, he helped launch Pro Arts Collective, an organization aimed at a "comprehensive arts plan for African Americans in Central Texas." In pursuit of that, Pro Arts produced plays, art exhibits and dance festivals.
In 2000, Vance helped set up the African-American Technical Resource Center to provide assistance both to individual artists and organizations.
Though he became a local celebrity thanks to his starring roles in "Shear Madness" and a stint with Esther's Follies, Vance made a decision to shift his energies away from individual stardom and toward a broader, public vision that would benefit the African American community.
"Early on, when I was just acting, I noticed that there was an absence of African Americans in the local theater scene, especially in positions of power: producers, directors — people who can make things happen," he said last year when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. "So it became my goal to make the system more representative of people who look like me."
His peers recall his purposefulness.
"Boyd was driven by a great vision, and he remained steadfast in his determination to fulfill that vision," said Lisa Byrd, production director of Ballet Austin and a longtime Pro Arts board member. "Many of us really benefited from the work he did. This is a tremendous loss that I hope will not signal the end of his vision."
Colleagues remember Vance's generous spirit.
"Any time I've gone to him, he's been there to help," singer-actress Jacqui Cross said. "He'd give me names, give me contacts, help me out in every way. He was that way with everybody."
Vance's fearlessness as a performer, and his laugh-inflected charisma, were showcased at a Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce luncheon in the early 1990s. As one of the event's principal entertainers, Vance sang a seductive show tune, landing in the laps of several suited business leaders, female and male. An American-States- man reporter recalled that the audience seemed more charmed than alarmed by Vance's theatrical advances.
He didn't confine his work to the arts.
In 1994, he moved to San Francisco to work with the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention. In 1996, he returned to Austin, but he continued to collaborate with other activists and artists on Austin's annual World AIDS Day events.
A gifted musician, Vance sang with the jazz band Cool Breeze in 1990s. More recently, he sang in services at his church, St. James Episcopal.
Pianist Kay Rivers Sparks, his frequent musical accompanist, remembers his boundless energy: "He was a loving loose cannon — a loose cannon in that he had so much energy and you just never knew which direction he was going next or what he was going to do next. Yet he was the most loving, polite person you could imagine."
He is survived by his mother, Hattie, and two brothers, Clen and Boyd's twin, Booker, a minister in Chicago.
Services at St. James Episcopal Church are pending.
Published in Austin American-Statesman on Apr. 10, 2005.