Theater
7:26 pm
Tue June 4, 2013

National Black Theatre Festival Announces 2013 Schedule

Performers from around the world will entertain people in the Triad for six days and nights. 

 Winston-Salem will host the National Black Theatre Festival (NBTF) July 29-August 3. During the week, more than 100 shows will be performed across the city. Tickets are now on sale and range between $8 and $45. Executive Producer, Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin, is the wife of the festival's founder, the late Larry Leon Hamlin. She says this biennial event has a strong economic impact on Winston-Salem because it attracts thousands of people from across the country to the city, and all of them spend money staying in the hotels, eating at restaurants, renting cars and shopping.

 "In 2011, we had an economic impact of nearly $10 million," says Sprinkle-Hamlin. "Also, we love having the festival in Winston-Salem because it is The City of the Arts. So we’re bringing great, professional theater to this community. These shows deal with the real challenges of life in ways people of all racial, economic and personal background will be able to relate to.” Artistic Director Mabel Robinson agrees. “It’s important we bring in from around the world artists, technicians, singers and dancers, directors and playwrights here so they can appreciate their similarities and differences to create unique experiences that audiences will remember for a lifetime,” explains Robinson. “The festival is a vehicle to a reunion of spirit that I believe Winston-Salem is open to receiving.”

 
 A star-studded gala will kick off the biennial event at the M.C. Benton Convention Center. It will be followed by the opening show, The Eve of Jackie: A Tribute to Jackie Wilson. Broadway dancer, singer and performer, Chester Gregory, returns with a portrayal of this American musical icon whose career spanned the late 1950's through 1975.

 "This is the last full concert Wilson did before his career abruptly ends," says Gregory. "And during it, he reveals some very personal things." Gregory debuted on the NBTF stage in 2001 and he says it’s very special to him. "In 2001, we got to headline the festival with The Jackie Wilson Story. It was an awesome experience and I got a chance to meet the incredible Larry Leon Hamlin,” explains Gregory. “One night, he (Hamlin) spoke a powerful word into my life. Hamlin said, 'In 2003 you won’t be able to come to the festival because you’ll be on Broadway.' That was true, because in 2003 I was cast in Hair Spray on Broadway in the role of Sea Weed.” Gregory performed in that show for 2 1/2 years. The show he’s bringing to Winston-Salem will run in the University of North Carolina School of the Arts Steven’s Center for five nights.

 Ralph Harris is also performing this year at the NBTF. He’s a nationally acclaimed comedian who highlights the twists and turns in relationships. “When I was a kid, I used to help my Mom with the household money. So I started working with Mr. Angelo, they guy who cut grass at the apartments around the corner from us, and he made storm doors and taught me how to use power tools. So that was one relationship,” Harris explains. “Then there was there was the lady who let me cut her hedges and her grandmother took me to the farm to pick blueberries, and I learned I’m not a farmer. I’m totally cool with going to the supermarket to buy my food,” jokes Harris. He says all of these relationships make and shape us. 

Harris is new to the festival. In his show, MANish Boy, a man is unexpectedly thrust into fatherhood. This forces him to face old fears from his childhood of growing up fatherless. Harris says this show came out of years he spent in therapy trying to reconcile his father leaving the family when he was 7 years old. “I hope this show will speak to fathers and sometimes mothers who have deserted their family. The door is still open, the kid is still going to love you, they are very resilient because they want to know the guy they never met,” says Harris. “So I’m hoping my show will open the eyes of fathers and mothers who don’t know how to reach back to realize there’s somebody’s life that could have been different if you’d been around.” Harris portrays several characters in his one-man show. It has sold out theaters in New York City and in Chicago. During the festival, he’ll give four performances at the M.C. Benton Convention Center.