This year was my first time experiencing the National Black Theatre Festival, held Biennially in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and all I can say is I can't wait until 1999.
The festival has been a huge reunion. There was so much genuine concern, love and sharing of emotions and ideas. Friends who had not seen each other for 20 years greeted and recalled their common projects. The festival was packed with wonderful productions, nightly midnight, new play readings, and salutes to the stars of the day. Most importantly, though, there was an amazing feeling of family. A common thread ran throughout the plays. Each showed a way to highlight the Black Family on Stage -- this year's theme.
I think the festival was a success. It showed many types of scenarios that are possible in a Black family.
The plays dealt with Black-related subjects, such as gospel music (The Glory of Gospel). In some cases, the audience was presented with honest looks into the lives of some of our heroes like Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith (Ghost Cafe). These productions weren't always about easy topics. Some were hard-hitting, dealing with issues of definite concern to the Black community. Issues like how a middle class, religious, Southern family deals with learning that their son is not only bisexual, but has contracted AIDS (Before It Hits Home). One play reminded us of all that Blacks have endured and triumphed over, as it chronicles the horrors of slavery (Do Lord Remember Me). These productions also depicted the lives of disfunctional families; one production dealt with obsession, neglect and unnatural and unhealthy attention to one person, leading to an ending based on desperation and delusion (A Sunbeam). Another aspect to this event was the Youth/Celebrity Project. Celebrities met and spoke with young people who came from all over the country. Their purpose was to inspire them. Highlighting the theme of the Black Family On Stage, the project has been a wonderful feature of every festival.
This year's festival has proven useful in many ways, from networking to meeting celebrities and conducting interviews.
I had an opportunity to be part of this historical and sometimes frenzied event.
A feeling of family was everywhere.
This is my final dispatch. The pace is slowing down a bit. I look forward to going home and seeing my family. In fact, I miss my husband and three year old daughter so much, I'll be on the 7 AM flight Sunday morning.
--By Linda Armstrong