NBAF Megaevent Set For Atlanta

The Olympics isn't the only megaevent happening in Atlanta this summer. The fifth biennial National Black Arts Festival (NBAF) takes place June 28-July 7. Over 1500 artists in 10 disciplines will perform.

The extensive range of offerings will include five theatrical productions, seven dance showcases, international visual arts exhibits, films, literature panels, and discussions ranging from the works of James Baldwin to conversations with Maya Angelou and Gwendolyn Brooks. Also featured will be street fairs and folk exhibitions, World Drummers for Peace, and a star-studded music festival featuring Abbey Lincoln, Doudou N'Diaye Rose, and Celia Cruz.

"The festival is a gathering of the people who labor in the proverbial vineyard every day," explained acclaimed theatre and TV actor Avery Brooks ("Paul Robeson," "Deep Space Nine"), who is this year's artistic director. "What we can do for 10 days is but to say 'thank you.' "

Brooks helped kick off publicity for the NBAF at a recent awards and entertainment evening at B. Smith's Restaurant in New York. The celebration began with the presentation of plaques honoring members of the Broadway cast of August Wilson's "Seven Guitars." Tony Award nominees Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Roger Robinson, Michele Shay, and Viola Davis were acknowledged for "endless commitment to your craft, which has brought great joy and respect to the African-American community and the world of art."

Veteran actress Shay joked about her past association with Brooks. "I remember when working with Avery, he was a nervous wreck about coming from New Jersey to work in New York," she said. Then, on a more serious note, she added, "People don't remember what we do I feel that what we do is sacred. And doing that has kept me in this business so far."

Robinson recalled when he first came to New York from Jacksonville, Texas, and saw "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." He said he decided resolutely "to be a part of that power, love, and dignity."

Celebrating the Spirit

"The focus is called 'Epiphany: The Ark of the Spirit,' " added Brooks. "We celebrate the artistic evidence of spirit and spirituality in the cultural expressions of African and African-American peoples. I see it in the work of Diane McIntyre. I hear it in the work of Bobbi Humphrey. I know it in Odetta."

The crowded room was treated to excerpts from Laurence Holder's drama "Zora Neale Hurston," the choreography of Diane McIntyre, the poetry of Hannibal Peterson, and the music of Quest. NBAF managing director Deborah Richardson Heard summed up the evening by saying, "What you've seen is just a pinpoint of what you'll see at the festival."

It was more than enough to get excited about. The festival's specific theatre offerings will include Holder's play featuring Elizabeth Van Dyke, Emily Mann's recent Broadway play "Having Our Say," the experimental and enigmatic "A Huey P. Newton Story" written and performed by Roger Guenveur Smith, Oba Babatunde in Marian McClinton's "The Ghosts of Summer," and "The Confessions of Stepin Fetchit" starring Roscoe Orman.

Other major events will include the NBAF Doll Exhibition, Louis Armstrong's 4th of July Birthday Celebration with Roy Hargrove and Ellis Marsalis, and an evening of dances from the '60s and '70s by choreographers Talley Beatty, George Faison, Billy Wilson, and others.

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