Family & Companions
Live-wire African-American actor and comedian whose energies were primarily focused on New York's off-Broadway performance scene. With her large eyes, open features and shock of thick hair, Vance first made her mark at La Mama with performances mixing music, outlandish comedy and high-toned cultural references. Producer Lorne Michaels decided to sign her up for his long-running late night variety series, "Saturday Night Live," in 1985, but despite (very) occasional chances for the show's first black female regular to shine, Vance was not happy with what she considered the dominant white male ethos the program had always displayed, and she left after a season.
Soon thereafter, though, Vance began a memorable theater association with playwright-director George Wolfe, winning awards for his anthology piece examining African-American stereotypes, "The Colored Museum" (1986), as well as for the later "Spunk" (1991), based on short stories by Zora Neale Hurston. She also began a feature film career in the late 1980s and, after playing small roles in films including "Sticky Fingers" (1988) and "The War of the Roses" (1989), began to make some headway with her first leading role in "Jumpin' at the Boneyard" (1991). Unfortunately, Vance also had to contend with breast cancer, which was diagnosed in 1990. She had a mastectomy and even created a performance piece, "The Radical Girl's Guide to Radical Mastectomy," which premiered at New York's Public Theater in the 1991-92 season, but a recurrence of the disease in 1993 would finally prove fatal, robbing the theater scene of a distinctive and versatile comic presence at age 35.
Cast (Feature Film)
Joined the cast of regulars of the latenight comedy-variety show, "Saturday Night Live", for one season
Made off-Broadway debut at LaMama in a revue show combining songs with comedy in which she performed with a trio known as "The Mel-O White Boys"
Made feature film debut in "Sticky Fingers"
Diagnosed with breast cancer
Last feature films, "Little Man Tate" and "Jumpin' at the Boneyard"
Recreated stage roles from the anthology drama, "The Colored Museum" for a PBS presentation of "Great Performances"
Cancer recurred; Vance was forced to cancel a performance engagement at the Public Theater
Last performed at New York's Joseph Papp Public Theater in a production of "Marisol" by Jose Rivera in May