Yesterday was non-stop at the National Black Theatre Festival . A little while after the press conference was over, we had to get dressed for a long evening, which began at 5 p.m. and ended at 12:30 a.m. At 5 p.m. there was a celebrity dinner held before the Opening Night Gala/Awards ceremony. These were followed by an invitation only performance of "The Glory of Gospel."
The entire evening had a feeling of love, respect, empowerment and encouragement.
The Gala opened with a "Parade of Stars." Anxious fans stood to take photos and greet the celebrities, as they walked down the aisle to the three tier dais on stage. The stars were preceded by African drummers, dancers and a stilt-dancer who continued to perform until all the celebrities were on the dais.
Debbie Allen was as passionate and commanding as MC, as she was at the press conference she led only 3 hours earlier. Looking into this crowd of 50,000+ she said, "We are here to hear our voices; find our voices--the voices of the Black Theater...Theater can happen anywhere -- in your backyard or church basement. If you're concerned about the misguided gang members in your community, do a play about it...There's a big movement going on and it's grassroots, in the community -- our powerbase."
Allen added, "I take being asked as chairperson, seriously. I feel like Miss America, child and my rain is for 2 years. The next time we meet it will be 1999, the eve of the 21st millennium. What you gonna do? Hello! I'm here to promote my commitment and end the isolation." After her inspiring opening, awards were presented in seven categories: Sidney Poitier Lifelong Achievement Award went to John Amos and Janet DuBois, the Lloyd Richards Director's Award was given to Shauneille Perry (the only woman to receive it), Larry Leon Hamlin Producer's Award went to Barbara Ann Teer (Founder and Director for the National Black Theater in Harlem) and Ricardo Khan (Founder of Crossroads Theater Company in New Brunswick, N.J.) The Living Legend Award went to Gloria Foster, Rosanna Carter, Ethel Ayler, Ellen Holly, Ernie McClintock, Douglas Turner Ward, Ed Bullins and Yvonne Brewster. The Garland Anderson Playwrights Award, won by August Wilson in '89, was renamed after Wilson. He presented it to Amiri Baraka. A special recognition award was presented to Terrie Williams.
The evening ended with a performance of "The Glory of Gospel," written, directed and choreographed by Mabel Robinson and performed by the North Carolina Black Repertory Company. Robinson takes a comprehensive look at the history of gospel music from Africa and the Southern States between 1650-1863, all the way through the 1940's, 60's and 90's.
The production is packed with over 50 songs -- lots of singing and dance numbers. The songs include: "Kum Baya, My Lord," "Motherless Child," "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing."
--By Linda Armstrong