The 25th National Black Theatre Festival, featuring over 100 performances, workshops, and seminars—and a special tribute to the late Ossie Davis—will kick off Aug. 1 in Winston-Salem, N.C., transforming the small city into a thriving hub of African-American theatrical art.
Produced since 1989 by Larry Leon Hamlin and the North Carolina Black Repertory Company, the weeklong festival will open with the hit musical "The Jackie Wilson Story," produced by Chicago's Black Ensemble Theatre and starring Chester Gregory II, along with a formal dinner and a star-studded awards ceremony. This year's national chairpersons are actors Janet Hubert and Joseph Marcell, who had recurring roles on the television series "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."
Among the diverse companies represented this year will be Cleveland's Umoja Arts with "Wilberforce," Dallas' Black Academy of Arts and Letters presenting "Pandora's Trunk," and Nashville's Trifecta Entertainment with the one-woman show "Ain't Got Long to Stay Here." Los Angeles will be represented by two plays from Kosmond Russell Productions, "Runt" and "Eddie Lee Baker Is Dead," as well as Artists Resources Unlimited's staging of "Champion."
New York's New Federal Theatre will return to the festival with its Off-Broadway drama "Waitin' 2 End Hell." From Brooklyn will come Inneract Productions with "Plenty of Time," and from Massachusetts, the New African Company will make its festival debut with "Working Things Out."
While this diverse assortment of plays forms the heart of the festival, over the years the event has drawn a widening circle of eclectic performers and attractions for all ages.
A storytelling festival and a children's theatre showcase draw family audiences to morning and early afternoon shows at the Benton Convention Center, and a series of "fringe" productions features collegiate theatre companies. In 2001, actor Ossie Davis produced the festival's first poetry slam performances, and Garland Lee Thompson, founder of the Frank Silvera Writers' Workshop in New York, schedules new-play readings twice each day with the many actors and directors visiting the festival.
Recently, screenings of new black films, both features and shorts, have made their appearance, and a performance-art series organized by Cultural Odyssey has spotlighted such performers as Ntozake Shange and Rhodessa Jones.
The bi-annual festival runs through Aug. 6. For a complete schedule and ticket information, visit www.nbtf.org or call (336) 723-7907.
From July 15-24, the annual National Black Arts Festival will take place in Atlanta. According to the festival's website, the fest's mission "is to develop, expose and educate audiences to the arts and culture of the African Diaspora and provide diverse opportunities for artistic and creative expression. Underlying that mission is NBAF's goal to bring diverse communities together through art and culture." For more information, go to www.nbaf.org.