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National Black Theatre Festival Showcases Black Experience


The National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, NC, packs more than 140 performances into less than a week. Shows include everything from musicals to dramas to solo performances, all showcasing the Black experience in America.

NBTF show

At the National Black Theatre Festival (NBTF), Aug. 3-8, watch musicals, comedies, dramas, and solo performances that explore the Black experience. Held every 2 years in Winston-Salem, NC, the festival gathers together African-American theater companies, stars, and up-and-coming artists from across the USA as well as from other countries.

NBTF performance

The 2015 festival features 40 different productions for a total of 140+ performances, making the gathering one of the largest showcases for Black theater in the nation. More than 60,000 people attended the 2013 festival.

“The plays are about and by Black people from all over the world,” says Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin, the festival’s executive producer. “Black theater is about us. It could be a play by a white playwright writing about a Black issue. Several plays have white performers. The festival is diverse. This year we have a show from Brazil and one from South Africa.”

Among the many options are 2 one-woman shows by noted talents. Debbi Morgan, a festival co-chair and actor well-known for her role on the soap opera All My Children, presents The Monkey on My Back!, an exploration of some of her life’s struggles; and Rain Pryor, actor, comedian, and daughter of Richard Pryor, enacts Fried Chicken and Latkes, her work about growing up Black and Jewish.

“We have plays that address all challenges, those of Black Americans and all Americans,” says Sprinkle-Hamlin. “We all face some similar issues and challenges.” The festival, for example, stages plays on Alzheimer’s, spousal abuse, parental abandonment, and sexual identity.

But NBTF isn’t all hard edges. Black Stars of the Great White Way pays homage to 100 years of African Americans on Broadway; The Glory of Gospel showcases the art form through song and dance; An Evening with Vivian Reed presents the Tony Award nominee’s toe-tapping jazz and rhythm and blues vocals; and Soul Crooners 2 brings back 1970’s soul music.

“There’s something for everyone,” says Sprinkle-Hamlin. And the tickets, compared to big city prices, are affordable, ranging from $6 to $48. 336-723-2266.

Have you ever attended the festival? What performances stood out? What are you most looking forward to this year? Comment below or connect with me on Twitter, @familytrips. Below, check out this trailer for a documentary on the legacy of the festival, Holy Ground.

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