There was a feeling of love, energy, gratitude and hope at the final 1 PM press conference of the 5th Biennial National Black Theatre Festival, in Winston Salem, North Carolina.
The final panel (chaired by press coordinator Irene Gandy) included actors, directors and a sculptor. The panelists were: Linda Kerr-Norfleet, Herman LeVern Jones, James Avery, Theresa Merritt, Ella Joyce and her husband Dan, Frankin Lett, Idris Ackamoon, Rome Neil, Mel Donaldson, Ernie McClintock and Sculptor Donald Brown. Of course, Larry Leon Hamlin, the founder and producer of the festival, was in attendance.
Each celebrity stated how many festivals they had attended and praised Hamlin for being a visionary and helping Black Theater to survive.
The crowd was encouraged by Jones to send in their ideas for the next festival, slated for Aug. 2-7, 1999.
After they all had a chance to speak, Hamlin said, "Number 5 and we only have one day to go." Turning to Brooks, he stated, "This is your day -- the day has been named for you." Brooks seemed a little baffled and replied, "Then it's a good thing I came!" After everyone burst into laughter Hamlin continued, "We love you and appreciate you. We recognize you as one of our jewels and we didn't want to wait 100 years to let you know how we feel." He then turned the focus on the Chair, Debbie Allen, and thanked her. He thanked all the celebrities and encouraged them to keep being involved. Hamlin also acknowledged that "when you're working in Black Theater, you're working in the trenches. While over $10 million has come to this community from the festival, we realize that a lot of our theater companies around the country need money."
He continued, "Within the next year, we're going to try to raise a million dollar endowment to help some of these struggling Black companies."
Regarding the festival, he shared: "This has been a special festival for me. I've never felt such spirituality. This was more like a revival. Hearts and souls were touched." Hamlin also thanked Sculptor Donald Brown who truly captured his essence in a bust completed and displayed this year. "Thanks for the 'Marvtastic' work you did." The press conference ended on an uplifting note, as Gandy's assistant, Horace Rogers, sang a song they wrote and dedicated to Hamlin, (which captured the conference) entitled, "We Are One."
-- By Linda Armstrong