Award celebrates legacy of NBTF founder
National Black Theatre Festival Executive Producer Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin was feted for her leadership of the National Black Theatre Festival on Sunday, the eve of the start of the 2013 NBTF.
Sprinkle-Hamlin has been hands on at both the NBTF and its parent organization, North Carolina Black Repertory Company, since the death of her husband, Larry Leon Hamlin, in 2007.
The Black Theatre Network (BTN) honored her with the inaugural Larry Leon Hamlin Legacy Award during its Luncheon and Legacy Celebration at the Brookstown Inn. The Network, which seeks to “expose the beauty and complexity of the inherited theatre work of our African American ancestors and to take this work to a higher level into the 21st century and beyond,” hosts its annual conference in Winston-Salem every other year, to coincide with the NBTF. It will now present the Hamlin Award every two years.
“Today is a very special one in that we celebrate the legacy of Larry Leon Hamlin, the founder of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company – the first professional black theatre company in all of North Carolina – and the National Black Theatre Festival,” said BTN President Michael Dinwiddie.
Sprinkle-Hamlin, who had worked behind the scenes at the festival and the Black Rep since their inceptions, stepped to the forefront six years ago, setting aside her own grief to insure that her husband’s legacy would live on. Many had questioned whether the biennial festival, which celebrated its 20th year in 2009, would survive in the absence of its flamboyant founder, whose charisma and vision had attracted thousands to the city for decades, but Sprinkle-Hamlin has proven her critics wrong.
“We have come in the past because of Larry Leon Hamlin,” said Dinwiddie, an associate professor of individualized study at New York University. “But now we come because of the torch that Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin carries, the torch that has made possible the continuation of Larry Leon Hamlin’s vision.”
Sprinkle-Hamlin, who also serves as director of the Forsyth County Public Library system, said she was honored to receive the award.
“It’s an awesome feeling. It makes you feel good to know that you’re appreciated and that people recognize what you’re doing,” the Tobaccoville native said. “It’s a lot of glamour but it’s a lot of hard work as well.”
Since taking the helm, Sprinkle-Hamlin says she has worked to broaden the festival and repertory company’s audience, trumpeting the mantra “Black Theatre is for Everyone” at every turn.
“Our mission is to introduce theatre to everyone because theatre is life,” she remarked. “…That has been my goal, to get out into the whole community and say, ‘Come, you can learn something.’ We stick to our mission, and I think that’s why we’ve been successful.”
The trio of Black Rep Executive Director Gerry Patton, Artistic Director Mabel Robinson and Sprinkle-Hamlin have been able to not only continue staging the festival without a hiccup, but have even helped it to grow. Sprinkle-Hamlin said she expects this year’s festival to be one of the biggest yet.
“We have a core group of people who, through thick and thin, have stuck by us and who believe in the mission, and I think that’s what’s kept us going,” she commented. “I think we have changed somewhat in how we conduct business. We have had to really go out into the community and tell our story, and now people are starting to buy into our story.”
Sprinkle-Hamlin said that she hoped the legacy of the company, the festival and its founder would be a source of inspiration for others who want to chase their dreams.
“I want people to know that I believe in us and I feel that if you have a dream, you can accomplish whatever that dream is,” she said. “I want people to know that it’s not about fame, it’s not about fortune, but it’s about what you believe in.”