The 2022 National Black Theater Festival returns with more than 130 theatrical productions | Arts & Theater

After a three-year hiatus, the National Black Theater Festival (NBTF) is back with over 130 theater productions and a lineup of star-studded performers.

In addition to black classics performed by national and professional black theater companies, the festival will feature a number of new works at multiple venues in Winston-Salem.

Dancers and drummers perform outside before the performance of ‘Jelly’s Last Jam’ on the opening night of the 2019 National Black Theater Festival at the Stevens Center in Winston-Salem.

Allison Lee Isley, Diary

“It’s like the biggest reunion and celebration,” said Jackie Alexander, NBTF Executive Producer and North Carolina Black Repertory Company Artistic Director. “The festival has this incredible energy.”

“People are so hungry just to commune with each other. This is the festival. It’s just people connecting. Everyone is in a good mood. Everyone wants to talk to everyone. This is what people yearn for after being locked up for so long.

National Black Theater Festival

Stephanie Wells and Robert Wells dance as Envision performs at the National Black Theater Festival Old School Block Party in August 2019.

Allison Lee Isley, Diary

learning curve

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The biennial festival, produced by the NC Black Repertory Company, last took place in 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Alexander found the 2022 festival unusual and difficult due to factors including the remaining pandemic precautions, the skyrocketing cost of living and the recent death of Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin.

Sprinkle-Hamlin led the NC Black Repertory Company as chair of the board and executive producer of the NBTF. She took over production of the festival in 2007 after the death of her husband, Larry Leon Hamlin, who founded the company and produced its first festival in 1989.

“There are a lot of challenges because everyone has been struggling for a few years,” Alexander said.

National Black Theater Festival

Leroy Roberson of Envision performs at the National Black Theater Festival Old School Block Party in August 2019.

Allison Lee Isley, Diary

He said the company and festival staff had to work remotely and learn to produce virtually.

“We actually produced quite a bit of content (virtually) quite quickly,” he said. “I think we started producing in April 2020. We did interviews. We’ve done performances from artists across the country. We’ve been busy producing virtually, but everything was free. All these productions did not really create income.

In February 2021, for Black History Month, the NC Black Repertory Company world premiered “Freedom Summer,” which will be live at the festival this year.

During these early pandemic times, the company also helped launch artarie.coma streaming service in Winston-Salem, featuring “Freedom Summer.”

“It’s been a huge learning curve,” Alexander said. “The biggest challenge is just learning how to stay in touch with your audience when you can’t invite them to the theater.”

The company welcomed the public again with an outdoor event in fall 2020 at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, then offered a week-long outdoor event series in August 2021 that included a concert, screenings of films and a production for children.

National Black Theater Festival

Dancers perform at the National Black Theater Festival Opening Gala in July 2019 at the Benton Convention Center in Winston-Salem.

Allison Lee Isley photos, Diary

Alexander said people were excited about these outdoor events and were ready to return to NBTF 2022.

“People related to the festival love it,” Alexander said. “The community loves it. Our volunteers are here every day and work all day to make sure we get there.

He is delighted to receive two awards from the 2019 festival. These are the Mabel P. Robinson Emerging Artist Award and the Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin Rolling World Premier Award aimed at engaging and exciting the next generation about the festival.

Over 60,000 people are expected to attend the NBTF, along with celebrities from stage, screen and television.

Arrindell and Byrd

This year’s celebrity co-chairs for the festival are Lisa Arrindell and Petri Hawkins Byrd.

National Black Theater Festival

The National Black Theater Festival celebrity co-chairs for 2022 are Lisa Arrindell and Petri Hawkins Byrd.

Arrindell has starred in Apple TV’s “12 Angry Men and…Women,” BET’s “Favorite Son,” and the Broadway production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Her movie credits include “Madea’s Family Reunion” and “Livin’ Large.”

Byrd is best known as an usher on “Judge Judy.” As an actor, his most recent work includes a guest role as Pastor Jerry in “The Bold and the Beautiful”, as Judge Byrd in “The Proud Family: Louder & Prouder”, as well as Judge Hawkins in the movie “Amy’s F**k It List.

Gala evening and productions

On August 1, the opening gala will take place at the Benton Convention Center with a parade of African drummers and dancers from the Otésha Creative Arts Ensemble, followed by a procession of more than 25 celebrities and an awards ceremony.

The second part of the evening will feature “The Eve of Jackie (The Last Time)”, featuring Broadway performer and artist Chester Gregory, at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts – Stevens Center.

A festival favorite over the years, this production, presented by Lucid Life LLC of Los Angeles, marks the 20th anniversary and final performance of Chester Gregory as the legendary Jackie Wilson.

National Black Theater Festival

Dancers perform at the National Black Theater Festival Opening Gala in July 2019 at the Benton Convention Center in Winston-Salem.

Allison Lee Isley photos, Diary

Other NBTF performances include “2 The Left – A Tribute to the Life of Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes”, “Becoming Othello: A Black Girl’s Journey”, “Blood Done Sign My Name”, “Frederick Douglass: No Turning Back”, “Greenwood”, “I Wanna Be Evil: The Eartha Kitt Story”, “Let My People Go!”, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”, “Michael Colyar’s Momma”, “Natural Woman: An Aretha Story”, “Pooled: A Gospel Musical Drama,” “Savior Samuel,” “The House of George,” and “You Can’t Fake the Funk (A Journey Through Funk Music).”

National Black Theater Festival

Shanee Karriem performs with the Otesha Creative Arts Ensemble at the National Black Theater Festival Opening Gala in July 2019.

Allison Lee Isley, Diary

The NBTF will provide American Sign Language interpreters at three performances:

2:00 p.m. August 6: ‘Freedom Summer’ at the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts/Reynolds Place Theater in downtown Winston-Salem. Tickets $45.

6:00 p.m. August 5-6: “The Golden Tales of Hip-Hop” at Bailey Park in the Innovation District at 445 Patterson Ave. in Winston-Salem. Free.

National Black Theater Festival

A drummer performs at the opening gala of the National Black Theater Festival in July 2019.

Allison Lee Isley, Diary

Special events

A portrait of Hamlin and Sprinkle-Hamlin, known as Mr. and Mrs. Marvtastic, will be unveiled at the festival. The Hattiloo Theater in Memphis, Tennessee has commissioned the couple’s portrait, which will be part of the exhibition “Black Theater Royalty: Portraits from the Hattiloo Theater Collection” from August 1-27 in the Main Gallery of the Council’s Milton Rhodes Arts. Arts Center. The exhibit, a collaboration with the Winston-Salem and Forsyth County Arts Council, is on loan from Hattiloo.

Hamlin coined the hybrid word “Marvtastic”. It means “there is nothing greater or better”.

Other special events, most of which are free, include the African American Heritage Group Tours, an Artist Career Networking Showcase (2022-virtual), Garland Thompson Sr. Reader’s Theater of New Works, International Vendors Market, Larry Hamlin Solo Performance Series, Midnight Poetry Jam, National Youth Talent Showcase, NBTF Film Fest, workshops and seminars and Youth Celebrity Project.

“We have an LGBTQIA+ celebration called ‘Out on Holy Ground,’ which consists of three days of reading and workshop events, and film screenings,” Alexander said.

In addition, the festival offers a new program called “Therapeutic Power of Theatre”, directed by Dr. Derek H. Suite.

It’s going to deal with how people have dealt with the stress of the past three years and how theater acts as a way to deal with the stress and anxiety that has been imposed on people,” Alexander said.

Spotlight on Winston-Salem

Anticipation is already building among local arts, downtown, economic development and tourism organizations.

“The Arts Council is a proud sponsor of the 2022 National Festival of Black Theater, and we are fully committed to the Festival’s mission to elevate professional black theater in Winston-Salem and nationally,” said Chase Law. , President and CEO of the Winston-Salem and Forsyth County Arts Council.

“In 2019, our city welcomed over 60,000 festival-goers eager to enjoy live theater and share their art with the community. And now he’s back, and we can’t wait to see the city come alive with all the festival brings to our region.

Jason Thiel, president of the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership, also welcomes the festival.

“We are very happy to have this wonderful event returning to downtown, and our businesses are eager to provide hospitality,” Thiel said. “We welcome that after last year’s hiatus due to COVID.”

Richard Geiger, president of Visit Winston-Salem, said the event is Winston-Salem’s largest festival “and a premier cultural asset that shines a national spotlight on Winston-Salem.”

“This year’s event is poised to once again attract a healthy influx of out-of-town visitors who stay overnight at our area hotels, dine at our incredible restaurants, shop at our stores and visit our museums and attractions,” Geiger said. “A lot of shows, events and hotel guests are happening downtown, but the caliber of positive national attention and economic stimulus generated by the NBTF benefits us all.”

Mark Owens, president and CEO of Greater Winston-Salem Inc., called the festival “one of Winston-Salem’s most important and impactful events, both culturally and economically.”

“It encompasses the whole community with events at venues all over the city, so visitors really get to know the city,” Owens said. “This, in turn, raises the city’s profile on the national stage in a prominent way. The NBTF is a big part of the Winston-Salem identity.

Marjorie N. McClure