Rosa Lee Scott: Actress, Artist and Educator

Published Nov. 15, 2023
Updated Jan. 05, 2024

The Child Drama Collection is the world's most comprehensive archival repository of manuscripts, ephemera, and educational materials related to the history of theatre for youth and drama in education. The collection contains over 2600 linear feet of manuscripts and over 700 print materials of plays dating back to the 16th century. The Child Drama Collection maintains and enhances access to rich and varied materials, from costumes to playbills, that reflect the rich history of professional performance and theatre education for young audiences. 

Rosa Lee Scott as a teenager
Rosa Lee Scott as a teenager, photographed at the Karamu House circa 1958 following her first performance in “A Murder Has Been Arranged”.

Like many distinctive collections and archival repositories, the Child Drama Collection aims to highlight individuals whose work is viewed as significant in a research area. It is also an invaluable resource for drama in education methodology and the evolution of teaching and learning processes. Alongside the personal papers of names that are quickly recognized in the field, such as Winifred Ward, Nellie McAslin, and Aurand Harris, are the papers of other individuals whose work should be amplified.

One figure in the collection, Rosa Lee Scott, stands out. Born in Atlanta, raised in Cleveland and educated at Colorado College and in Paris at the L’École Jacque Lecoq, Scott had a broad background in elementary education and in the dramatic arts. Scott lived an incredible life which is documented in a scrapbook collection. The scrapbook notes her early years as an actress in Cleveland, Ohio, her service in the Air Force, her attendance at Colorado College and her career as an elementary school theatre teacher and arts education workshop instructor in the Washington, DC area. Her story is one of joy, curiosity and creativity, right up until her passing. Though Scott sadly died in her forties from cancer, she was a part of groundbreaking work in theatre and education.

Rosa Lee Scott teaching
Rosa Lee Scott teaching at Colorado College circa 1970-1971.

Scott began her career in theatre as a high school student acting with the Karamu House Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio, a prestigious, integrated experimental theater and the oldest African-American theater in the United States, with its doors originally opening in 1915. Many of Langston Hughes's plays were developed and premiered at the theater. The pioneering drama educator Ann M. Flagg was a director at the Karamu House Theatre during the period in which Scott acted and eventually directed productions. Scott’s artistic work in adult and children's productions from 1957-1962 included: props for “Bullfight”; actress in “Death of a Salesman”, “Fairy Tale Wood” (directed by Ann Flagg), “Simply Heavenly”, “Our Town” and “Master Builder” (with Ann Flagg); lighting and costumes for “Gallant Tailor”; and director of “The Knight of the Funny Bone” and “The Princess Who Wanted the Moon”. Eventually, in 1962, she would become the Assistant Director of the Children's Theatre Program at Karamu House and a dramatics instructor.

In the summer of 1960, Scott attended the New York Encampment for Citizenship in Riverdale, New York as a facilitator in theatre programming. The Encampment for Citizenship (EFC) was founded in 1946 by Algernon D. Black, a leader of the New York Society for Ethical Culture (NYSEC), and Alice K. Pollitzer, a prominent civic leader, as an opportunity for “young adults of many religious, racial, social and national backgrounds” to learn “the principles and techniques of citizenship … through lived experience.” The EFC was founded on the core idea that young people can be a positive force in their communities if they develop critical thinking skills, youth activism, leadership qualities and the courage to work for social justice. 

When asked about her participation in the program and her views of the purpose of creative drama for youth, Scott responded:

Because I love children and drama, but most of all because I love the world and do not wish to see it destroyed. The art of creative  dramatics is a childlike way to help children discover the real world in which they live, to discover the magic and love that are deep within their souls. Playmaking not only benefits the children who participate in this activity, but it is also valuable in the home and in the community in which the children live. A community reflects the life of its people. Young people are always a vital factor in the security of the community. When children enter into worthy activities and spend their time and energy in constructive thinking, the entire community benefits. If children in homes, schools, and communities throughout the world are brought into the realm of creative art experiences where they can laugh and talk together, play and work together, think and feel together, then they can live together. Cultural forces are far more unifying than political ones.


Rosa Lee Scoot teaching a movement course
Rosa Lee Scoot as an instructor in a movement course circa 1972.

In September 1962, Scott completed the Basic Training Course for the United States Air Force. While in the service, one of her duties was as a clerk typist with the Air Defense Command Chaplain's Office. She received an Honorable Discharge in July 1966. Following her discharge, she resumed work at the Karamu House, before beginning her undergraduate studies at Colorado College. In 1970, she was asked to evaluate the performance of London's Young Vic Company. She also was awarded a $6,000 grant from Thomas J. Watson Foundation to engage in creative drama study in England and France. In her senior year she studied mime, pantomime and commedia in Paris at the L’École Jacque Lecoq. This experience had a lasting impact on Scott’s future career. When she returned to teach at Colorado College as a lecturer, she continued to integrate mime and pantomime into her movement classes. After graduating with her BA in Fine Art and Drama in 1973, Scott was invited as a United States delegate to the ASSITEJ (International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People, or, L'Association internationale du théâtre pour l'enfance et de la jeunesse) Congress in Venice, Italy. 

The cast of “Our Town” at Karamu House
The cast of “Our Town” at Karamu House circa 1961-1963.

Rosa Lee Scott stands out in a time when theatre was in many ways both implicitly and explicitly a racially segregated environment. Settlement workers and other neighbors were pioneers in the fight against racial discrimination. In 1915, Russell and Rowena Woodham Jelliffe set out to establish a common ground in Cleveland, Ohio where people of different races, religions, and social and economic backgrounds could find community through art. In 1917, plays began at the new Playhouse Settlement, which would eventually become the Karamu House. The early 1920s saw a large number of African Americans move into the area from the South during the Great Migration. Jelliffe and her husband, a white couple, insisted that all races were welcome. The Playhouse Settlement quickly drew for some of the best African-American artists of the day. Dancers, visual artists, actors, and writers built an artistic community. The Playhouse Settlement became an active contributor to the Harlem Renaissance. 

The time that Rosa Lee Scott spent at Karamu House during her teenage years and into her early adulthood inevitably shaped her future. There is a crucial need in our society for safe, culturally sensitive spaces for youth to bring their full selves. Whether it is an art center, theatre company, after school service or religious center, youth deserve the right to safe spaces to fully express themselves. For Scott to engage in professional theatre and education at an international level on the heels of the Civil Rights movement is extraordinary. Due to implicit and explicit racism, BIPOC educators and theatre artists continue to face tremendous systemic barriers to equal representation and access in performing arts. Organizations that focus on theatre for young audiences such as TYA/USA are striving for greater inclusion in their initiatives, such as those seen in BIPOC in TYA interactive guide. The TYA/USA Bipoc Superhero Project is an initiative launched by playwright, educator and Arizona State University alumnus Jose Casas which will commission new works from twenty BIPOC playwrights in partnership with twenty four theatres, with a goal is to build community and provide intentional pathways to recenter historically marginalized narratives. A local Phoenix theatre company, Rising Youth Theatre, is one of the chosen partners to produce and stage the works developed. 

Archival work and theatre for young audiences are both working to recenter marginalized narratives. The work of Rosa Lee Scott calls for a greater commitment to uplifting hidden stories in BIPOC theatre. To view the finding aid for the Rosa Lee Scott collection, please visit this link at Arizona Archives Online. To learn more about the Child Drama Collection, please visit

– Caelin Ross, Performing Arts Librarian, curator of the Child Drama Collection