The countdown until Winston-Salem again becomes “Black Theatre Holy Ground” will soon begin.
The North Carolina Black Repertory Company, which produces the National Black Theatre Festival that long ago earned the city that moniker, is gearing up for a series of festival-related events on Monday, June 3.
The day will begin with a highly anticipated public press conference at noon in the Garden Terrace of the Embassy Suites Hotel, where festival organizers will unveil the full lineup of festival shows and events and showcase preview performances by special guests. The company selected 2013 shows from a record 140 entries and the end result can only be described as “marvtastic,” according to NCBRC Executive Director Gerry Patton.
“The slate of plays is tremendous. People are going to be really, really happy when they see who’s coming,” Patton declared. “We’re just looking forward to another successful event.”
It has already been revealed that two North Carolina natives will take part in the upcoming festival.
Actresses Lorey Hayes, a N.C. A&T alum from tiny Wallace, will join fellow Tarheel State native Pauletta Pearson Washington, the wife of two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington, for staged readings of “Power Play,” according to a news release from Hayes.
The festival, which is expected to attract 60,000 visitors to the Twin City, offers a prime opportunity to showcase Winston-Salem’s unique attributes and leverage its heft as a tourist destination, Patton said.
“It really lifts awareness for the city, and we’re really happy about that,” she remarked. “The South is really becoming an entertainment mecca all around and we just think this event increases awareness of the South and the wonderful people that live there and how supportive they are of events that are in their backyard.”
The local community is supporting the festival financially as well, said Nigel Alston, who is co-chairing the Fundraising Committee along with Mayor Allen Joines, said donations are up this year.
“We’re very close to our $500,000 goal,” said Alston, who has served on the committee for nearly two decades.
Alston fully expects to exceed the goal.
“My expectation is that we should go beyond it.”
Some of the corporate donors have decreased their donation amounts, but the committee has managed to keep fundraising afloat by soliciting individual donations through the Marvtastic Society, broadening their target area and highlighting small business sponsor packages, Alston said.
“It’s going to be another great time in the community, great spirit and energy,” he said of the festival, which is slated for July 29-Aug. 3. “I would encourage everyone to sign up and get their tickets early.”
The festivities will continue Monday evening at the High Point Area Arts Council, where festival organizers will stage a kickoff event at 5 p.m. A 7 p.m. volunteer kickoff at the N.C. Black Rep’s home base, the Arts Council Theatre, will follow. Board Chair Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin said the latter event is designed to tap into one of the festival’s most important assets: volunteers.
“The community really believes in what we are doing. They have always been strong supporters of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company from the beginning,” stated Sprinkle-Hamlin, the widow of Theater Festival Founder Larry Leon Hamlin. “Without them, we probably wouldn’t even have a theater company; to have their support and time means a lot to us.”
Festival organizers rely on volunteers for everything from security to transportation, hosting and even providing minor medical care to festival goers, said Volunteer Co-Coordinator Patrice Toney. It takes about 1,500 volunteers to make the festival run smoothly, Toney said.
“Truly, the volunteers are the foundation of the festival,” she remarked. “We really see our volunteers as ambassadors for the National Black Theatre Festival. They give their time, they give their resources, they really promote the festival.”
Though the festival requires a massive volunteer effort, organizers rarely have to solicit help; nearly 300 have already signed up this year, Toney said. Many people take the weekoff from work in order to be available throughout the festival, she added.
“It’s amazing, people just get excited about volunteering,” she remarked. “They just want to be a part of this major event that comes to our city every two years.”
Volunteers also get an “up close and personal” look at the festival, in addition to discounts on tickets, Patton said. Though the festival celebrates the black experience, organizers are hoping to attract a diverse group of attendees from the local community and beyond, she added.
“Although we’re African American and it’s the National Black Theatre Festival, the plays address universal themes,” she noted. “We all laugh and cry and celebrate milestones – that’s what theater is all about.”
To join the Marvtastic Society or to become a business sponsor, contact Alston at 336-416-8278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the festival, or to volunteer, visit www.nbtf.org.