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!
View a full list of the 2015 NBTF Honorees HERE