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A Must See

2015 National Black Theatre Festival: Promises Music, Dance, Theatre & A Celebration of Legacy

Nicole

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Giddy expectation surrounds the 2015 biennial National Black Theatre Festival in Winston Salem North Carolina. Since 1989, the festival produced by the North Carolina Black Repertory Company  and founded by Larry Leon Hamlin will showcase 145 performances to an expected  60, 000 participants. The festival will feature 37 professional theatre companies from around the country, South Africa and Brazil. In addition, there will be two collegiate productions.

This year’s festival, which runs August 3rd through August 8th, boasts celebrity co-chairs Debbie Morgan  and Darnell Williams well known as the beloved Black power couple “Angie and Jessie” on the soap opera “All My Children”. Additionally, theatre goers will have the opportunity to attend “The Monkey on My Back” (An Intimate Evening with Debbi Morgan) which details memoirs of her life and legacy. After a stirring celebrity processional replete with African drummers and dancers, attendees of the opening night gala will be treated to an awards presentation. Check out our previous article on this year’s honorees.

The headlining event of the festival this year will be “Black Stars of the Great White Way: A Chapman Roberts Concept” produced by Chapman Roberts. The concert has been described as a “soaring music and dance celebration of the glorious 100 year history of African Americans on Broadway and at Carnegie Hall. This Gala All Broadway Star Production is specifically designed to honor NBTF luminaries past and present”. The concert will include tributes to Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Louis Jordan, Eubie Blake, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong and Noble Sissle. This star studded concert will include the likes of Melba Moore, Jackee Harry, Harold Wheeler, Hattie Winston, Obba Babatunde, Maurice Hines, Alyson Williams, Norm Lewis, Andre Deshields, Larry Marshall, Peggi Blu, Longineu Parsons, Jeffresy Anderson-Gunter, Kirk Taylor, Jacob Wheeler, Dawnn Lewis and Jermaine Coles. Selections from beloved productions of Eubie, Bubbling Brown Sugar, Sunset Boulevard, Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Smokey Joe’s Cafe, The Wiz  and the film “Selma,” will highlight the rich history of Black Broadway Theatre.

According to the website, this year’s festival promises a multitude of “…electrifying performances, informative workshops, riveting films and insightful spoken word poetry that will open your eyes to a new perspective on our culture’s artistic endeavors. Every evening culminates with a Celebrity Reception, Midnight Readers’ Theatre and the Midnight Poetry Jam.” Festival attendees should keep their eyes out for popular productions such as “Letter from Zora: In Her Own Words” performed by OPAS (Los Angeles, CA)  , “The Eve of Jackie: A Tribute to Jackie Wilson” performed by Chess, Not Checkers, Inc. (New York, NY), , “At Last: A Tribute to Etta James” performed by Black Ensemble Theater (Chicago, IL) and “The Bluest Eye” performed by North Carolina Central University (Durham, NC)

This year’s lineup promises to be an exciting and powerful celebration of Black Theatre for both festival veterans and newcomers. Avid festival attendee and supporter Wendell Tabb, Chair of Visual and Performing arts at Hillside High School says the following about the festival “I have had the pleasure of attending the Theatre Festival since 1989. Many of my former Hillside Theatre students perform at the Festival with Theatre Companies from around the world. The National Black Theatre Festival has helped jumpstart so many professional careers and has afforded great opportunities for artist to develop and showcase their works. The vision and legacy of the late Larry Leon Hamlin continues to shine through the hearts of many. I am extremely grateful and honored to be a part of Black Theatre” in the words of Larry Leon Hamlin that’s Marvtastic!

Tickets are currently available online at ww.nbtf.org Connect with the festival on Facebook.

View a full list of the 2015 NBTF Honorees HERE

Nicole "Blackberri" Johnson is a freelance writer, stage/ film actress, activist and entrepreneur. Mom of three. Blackberri is also a notorious cape thief and unapologetic bacon lover. Follow on twitter @Blackberri

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A Must See

We Were There: Sojourners & Her Portmanteau

Jerrica White

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[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Playwright, educator, opera singer, and Queen, Mfoniso Udofia has two plays running at New York Theatre Workshop. *pause* TWO PLAYS. In the SAME season!?!? *ends congratulatory gasp* Sojourners and Her Portmanteau are performed in repertory, as two chapters of Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle.  Admittedly, before researching each show, I didn’t know the definition of either word; and in the spirit of keeping it consistent with the honesty, I didn’t like either play. I loved them.

Sojourners

Minimalism seems to be the name of the game these days.  I sat down to a completely black stage, sans a multimedia display lodged on the ceiling at a 45-degree angle.  Clutching my all white program and bobbing my head to the ‘70s pop rock pre-show music, I prepared my heart for the story of Sojourners, well at least that was the plan.  The stage begins to rotate and we meet Abasiama (Chinasa Ogbuagu) and Ukpong (Hubert Point-Du Jour), Nigerian expatriates sojourning in Houston, Texas with the plan to start a family, earn their degrees, and go back to Nigeria until life happens.

Charming and handsome, Ukpong becomes defined by his leather jacket, shoulder work and shimmy which match the fascination and yearning for freedom that illuminates his eyes every time he talks of peace, protest, and Prince–all shaping his view of 1970s America, and consequently, the American Dream.  But does leather compensate for grit? Is a movement or vibe really a panacea for disappointment, aimlessness, and a need to find yourself?  Abasiama enters the play pregnant, purposed, and outfitted in pieces of Nigerian garb, grounded in duty showing a stark contrast to Ukpong who floats in desire.  What’s lost in your household is found elsewhere, and this is when we start to see, and root for, Abasiama’s transformation from timid to tenacious.

Enter Moxie (Lakisha May), a colorful prostitute turned protector and friend.  There is a mutual respect despite great differences between her and Abasiama, with their love for one another creating moments that make you believe in the beauty of humanity.  Enter Disciple (Chinaza Uche), another warm and determined hearted immigrant who has come to the United States to study, rounding out the timely additions of love, support, and security when Abasiama needed them the most.

Through and through this is Abasiama’s story and she glows.  Her kindness, her sisterhood, her strength, her worthiness, and the realization of her American Dream, guide her decisions—which is the catalyst behind the entire Ufot Cycle.

Her Portmanteau

Her “portmanteau”, or red suitcase, makes a return as 30 years have passed.  Abasiama now has two daughters, one raised in America and the other who has come from Nigeria to reconnect with her family.

This is a good moment to mention that each story is informed by the other, but can certainly stand alone on substance, content, and the amazing direction of Ed Sylvanus Iskandar.  The staging is exciting and deliberate, while minimal, putting the full focus on the tension and growth to be expected of a family reunited after a substantial amount of time and distance.

Chinasa Ogbuagu returns to the stage, this time as the American-born daughter, Adiagha Ufot, Adepero Oduye as Iniabasi Ekpeyoung (Ukpong and Abasiama’s daughter), and Jenny Jules as the mother, Abasiama Ufot.

Seated on a couch in Adiagha’s small New York Apartment, no amount of preparation readies your mind and spirit to form the words to make up for 30 years of life, connection, and memories missed.  We’re taken on a ride of resentment, hurt, love, and forgiveness, as the portmanteau is literally unpacked.  We watch the teeter-tottering between offense and defense as one sister tries to assimilate into American culture, and the other attempts, albeit stubbornly, to fall in formation in honoring a family she shares blood with, but little time or tangible history.

It’s powerful to see a story of history and continuing a legacy despite lost time, faulty promises, and difficult choices explored with an all-woman cast as far too often the idea of legacy is framed in patriarchy.  Jules admirably takes Abasiama through the fire to heal, to feel, and to fix her family.  The narrative allows us to empathize and understand the struggle that comes with upholding family values versus cultivating a space to achieve personal dreams and happiness.

Her Portmanteau (and Sojourners) is written in a way that finds your soul, gently massaging it with humor, while leaving it with very real questions.  I’ve never felt a greater need to binge read nine stories and simultaneously study the story of my own family tree. I left changed. I left wrapped in the strength of my mom and my mom’s- mom’s sacrifice.  I left pensive and with seeds of future forgiveness planted.  I left changed.

For capturing our hearts with wit and with truth.  For putting Black women at the center of a poignant narrative.  For unapologetically telling a story you haven’t seen told and telling it in the way you want it to be told.

We thank you Mfoniso.  We thank you.

Have you seen the #duetplays? Sound off in the comments below![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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A Must See

Our Story in 2 Plays for 1 Price: Mfoniso Udofia’s Sojourners & Her Portmanteau

Jerrica White

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Last winter, we reported on Sojourners by playwright Mfoniso Udofia, a new play about a Nigerian family who has come to America with the goal of earning a college education, starting a family, and returning to Nigeria. But not without the twists and turns that come along with every plan that seems straightforward.

Image result for Sojourners and Her Portmanteau

Thanks to New York Theatre Workshop, we get to relive this moment and continue the dialogue, decades later, with Her Portmanteau. Performed in repertory, these two chapters of Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle, chronicle the triumphs and losses of the tenacious matriarch of a Nigerian family.

Ed Sylvanus Iskandar directs the two-part story in association with The Playwrights Realm, who premiered Sojourners last winter in a limited engagement world premiere production. Her Portmanteau also received the 2016 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award grant.

The cast includes Jenny JulesLakisha Michelle MayAdepero OduyeChinasa OgbuaguHubert Point-Du Jour, and Chinaza Uche.

As if that wasn’t enough to get excited about, we have an exclusive deal for our Broadway Black readers!

Our Story in 2 Plays for 1 Price!

Yes. That’s two shows for one price! The discount code BWYBLACK will take 50% off tickets to ANY performance(s) if purchased by May 15th! 

Go ahead and grab your tickets. We have ours!

Sojourners and Her Portmanteau plays at NYTW until June 4th.

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