National Black Theatre Festival Unites Generations of Artists
It was a meeting of the minds of all ages at the Fifth Biennial National Black Theatre Festival (NBTF). This week-long celebration with plays, readings, workshops, and international seminars was produced and hosted by Larry Leon Hamlin and the North Carolina Repertory Company in Winston-Salem, North Carolina from August 4 - 8, 1997. The artistic godfathers (playwrights Amiri Baraka, Ed Bullins, and Ron Milner) and godmothers (producer- director Barbara Ann Teer, and actors Ellen Holly and Rosanna Carter) brought a wealth of experience and knowledge of theatre aesthetics and history, while the newer set (emerging performance artist Keith Antar Mason, actors Karen Malina White and Ra'ven Larrymore Kelly) took center stage with their talents and passion for realizing their own contributions to the Black theatre legacy. They and many thousands of other Black theatre enthusiasts came together and galvanized this year's theme, "The Black Family on Stage."
Famed choreographer-actor and director, Debbie Allen, was the Festival's honorary chairperson. Allen was joined by many stars of the stage and screen. Among them were actors James Avery, Barbara Montgomery, Tonea Stewart, Roseanna Carter, Hal Williams, Keith David, Hattie Winston, Anna Maria Horsford, Antonio Vargas, Maria Gibbs, Glynn Turman, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Stephanie Mills, and Theresa Merritt; play-wrights Ron Milner, Trevor Rhone, Mari Evans, Samuel Kelley; and producer-directors Woodie King Jr. (National Black Touring Circuit), Miguel Algarin (Nuyorican Poets' Cafe) and Ricardo Khan (Crossroads Theatre).
Expansion was the buzz word as Festival founder, Larry Leon Hamlin, opened the occasion with an announcement that he was exploring the possibilities of producing the Festival annually and was seeking a city to host it. Hamlin said that ever since the first festival, in 1989, people have asked him to produce the festival every year. Now that the NBTF has grown to such a large proportion, he is ready to investigate that possibility with the first "annual festival to be held in the year 2000 in a city to be determined."
The first order of business for the National Black Theatre Festival has always been the opening gala and recognition of award recipients at the Benton Convention Center. Veteran actors John Amos of Roots and Coming to America fame and Ja'Net DuBois, whose stage credits include Broadway productions of Golden Boy and A Raisin in the Sun, were the honorees for this year's Sidney Poitier Lifelong Achievement Awards. The Lloyd Richards Director's Award went to Shauneille Perry, who directed premiere productions of Black Girl, The Prodigal Sister, Sty of the Blind Pig, Bayou Legend, and William and Walker, among others. Prolific award-winning playwright Amiri Baraka received the August Wilson Playwright's Award for Excellence. Barbara Ann Teer, founder of the thirty-year-strong National Black Theatre of New York and Ricardo Khan of Crossroads Theatre of New Brunswick, New Jersey were recipients of the Larry Leon Hamlin Producer's Award. Living Legend honors went to actors Gloria Foster, Rosanna Carter, Ethel Ayler, Ellen Holly, actor-playwright-director-producer Ernie McClintock, producer-director Douglas Turner Ward, founder of the Negro Ensemble Company and Yvonne Brewster, artistic director of the Talawa Theatre Company in London, England. Publicist, entrepreneur and author Terrie Williams was presented with a Special Recognition Award.
The Living Legend honorees also spoke during a panel presentation at the Festival headquarters, the Adams Mark Hotel. Carter, Holly and McClintock spoke about their experiences and gave learned advice from their long careers. Carter, the eldest of the group with stage credits from Arthur Miller's The American Clock and Ed Bullins' The Fabulous Miss Marie, said she "survived by doing." Holly, a 16-year career actor of stage and …