Arts and celebrities fill city for National Black Theatre Festival

by Lenise Willis

In 1965, when Amiri Baraka, a Harlem writer and activist, began the Black Arts Movement and what Time magazine has called “the single most controversial moment in the history of African-American literature,” he broke ground for decades of aspiring African- American artists.

And now, more than 40 years later, Winston-Salem’s National Black Theatre Festival, the only one of its kind in the country offering six consecutive days of professional theater, film, poetry, workshops, seminars and shopping, continues the movement’s goals to not only strengthen the black community, but to also amplify its voice and influence, calling loud and deserved attention to black artists’ contributions to the world of artistic expression.

“We are so excited about all of our mainstage productions this year,” said Gerry Paton, executive director of North Carolina Black Repertory Company. “These spectacular performances will be ‘Marvtastic’ and will reach audiences of all ages.”

The term “Marvtastic” was actually coined by the festival’s founder, Larry Leon Hamlin, to describe that nothing was better or greater than the festival.

And apparently the American Business Association shared a similar sentiment for the festival, naming it one of the Top 100 events in North America.

Of course, the festival isn’t merely put on for historical or even political significance. Playing host for more than 40 productions, the festival provides a plethora of fun and exciting opportunities for area theater lovers. NBTF even has five productions with ties to North Carolina, and apparently the state has some exciting ties to Hollywood.

Actress and NC native Pauletta Pearson Washington, wife of Denzel Washington, will star with Roscoe Orman (Gordon on “Sesame Street”) in a celebrity staged concert reading of Power Play.

The award-winning play explores passion, politics and the power of God through the story of an influential politician and four women who find themselves caught in a whirlwind of personal and political intrigue. Pauletta Washington not only grew up nearby in Catawba County, but is also a graduate of the UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem.

In addition to its unique ties to our state, as well as Denzel Washington, Power Play was written by Lorey Hayes, a graduate of NC A&T University. Hayes was a Broadway and film actress before turning writer, and her credits include The Dragonfly Tale, winner of the 2007 Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s Southern Writer’s Project.

Nearby professional black theatre company, COAH Enterprises of Charlotte, will roam into town to present The Evolution of Black Gospel Music, a crowd-pleasing musical that retraces the roots and evolution of the form. Through key characters and vignettes, the play shows how the music helped shape African-American culture.

Another through-provoking production to be presented is Crowns, which explores black history and identity as seen through the eyes of a young black girl who goes south to stay with her grandmother after her brother is killed in Brooklyn. Crowns is based on the book of the same name by Greensboro’s Craig Marberry and will be presented by the NC Black Repertory Company.

Mama Juggs, a one-woman show presented by Anita Woodley of Chapel Hill, is an intimate performance about women’s health, motherhood and living with breast cancer as told through the voices of three generations of women. A tale of life in all its wonderful and difficult moments.

For Brothers and Sisters Who Chose Life — When Death Was Not an Option is a fusion of two separate works, the choreopoem “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf,” by Ntozake Shange; and “For Black Boys Who Have Considered Homicide When the Streets Were Too Much,” by Keith Mason.

Presented by NC Central University, this intriguing play examines how men and women forge a path to discovery, self-worth, mutual respect and interdependence.

NBTF is the international outreach program of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company, which was founded in 1979. The festival, created by the same founder, has been held every other year since 1989. The event attracts thousands of national and international patrons, theatre professionals and scholars to Winston-Salem.


The National Black Theatre Festival, hosted at various venues throughout Winston-Salem, will be held from July 29 to August 3. For tickets, a schedule of events and more information, visit or call the festival office at 723-2266.