With an emphasis on "the black family on stage," and with 250 African American theatre artists, the 1997 Black Theatre Festival will get underway, Aug. 4-9, in Winston-Salem, NC.
The biennial event, produced by Larry Leon Hamlin and hosted by the North Carolina Black Repertory, will feature more than 20 productions, as well as an opening night gala and Youth/Celebrity project.
Debbie Allen (of Sweet Charity and TV's "Fame") will serve as Chairperson of the festival, with guests to include John Amos, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Michael De Lorenzo, Loretta Devine, Marilyn McCoo, Stephanie Mills, Reginald Van Johnson and Courtney B. Vance (Fences).
Companies showcased in the Fest include Florida's M Ensemble Company and Teatro Avante; NJ's Crossroads (where August Wilson's Jitney recently played); NC's Triangle Per p Company, Herman LeVern Jones Theatre and NC Black Repertory; the African American Company of Kentucky; and VA's Ernie McClintock's Jazz Actors Studio.
Celebrities will include Glynn Turman and Barbara Montgomery in Do Lord Remember Me, Ella Joyce in Wilson's Fences, Andre DeShields (recently of Play On!) in Ghost Cafe, Micki Grant Sunbeam, Ntozake Shange in ellington is not a street [sic], and Karen Malina White in Chain. Other plays scheduled are Before It Hits Home, Fences and Moms Mabley Live. Here is a more detailed look at highlights of the Festival schedule:
Aug. 4: Check-in, registration & opening night gala on "Debbie Allen Day." NC Black Rep will also offer The Glory Of Gospel.
Aug. 5-6: Blues by Jerome McDonough, from the HLJTCA Theatre. North Carolina Black Rep's The Glory Of Gospel; Andre De Shields as Louis Armstrong and Mary Bond Davis as Bessie Smith in Ghost Cafe, written by De Shields and Jim Mirrione. "Potpourri Noire," cabaret/variety show with Shange, curated by Idris Ackamoor. Amiri Baraka's The C Above High C, from NY's Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Pamela Poitier stars in the solo, Boochie and Ernie McClintock's Jazz Actors Theatre in Cheryl West's Before It Hits Home. [On Aug. 6, Stephanie Mills & Theresa Merritt will be special guests at an evening reception; the following night, Annie's Nell Carter does the honors.
Aug. 7-8: Negro Ensemble Company's Sister Rabbit Takes Harlem, Mojo Ensemble's Indigo Blues, Crossroad Theatre's Jitney (by August Wilson), and Ntozake Shange's Prism; ellington is not a street.
Aug 9: Jomandi Productions' Birth Of The Boom; Jackie "Moms" Mabley Live; in poems and music, Sekou Sundiata & Craig Harris' Thou Shalt Not Kill; HLJTCA Theatre's Fences and HADLEY Players' A Sunbeam.
For information on the 1997 National Black Theatre Festival, call their hotline at (910) 723-2266.
--By David Lefkowitz