Black ­Theatre Holy Ground

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The National Black Theatre Festival has been happening every odd year in Winston Salem, N.C., since 1989 and this “marvtastic” (a word coined by the late founder Leon Hamlin that means there is nothing greater or better than) biennial event brings more than 65,000 theatre enthusiasts to Winston Salem for six days of the best in professional Black theatre. There aren’t too many places that you can go where a touch of Pittsburgh isn’t found and Pittsburgh theater royalty was well represented throughout the National Black Theatre Festival, Aug. 1-6.

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THE TURMANS AND FRIEND—Melinda Turman, Glynn Turman, Stephanie Turman (Glynn Turman’s daughter and Pittsburgh resident) and Lou Myers (actor “A Different World”). (Photos by Debbie Norrell)

The festival is produced by the North Carolina Black Repertory Co. Eileen J. Morris, currently the artistic director for the Ensemble Theatre in Houston Texas and the former managing director of the Kuntu Repertory Theatre received the Larry Leon Hamlin Producer Award. Her acceptance of the award was a performance in itself. For many years Pittsburgh claimed Morris as a resident and you can still see her from time to time in Pittsburgh directing plays.

An August Wilson Playwright Award was presented to Charles Smith (producer /writer) and Samm-Art Williams (producer/writer). Members of the Kuntu Repertory Theater were in attendance performing staged readings and workshops. Also spotted at the theatre festival was Andre Guess, president and CEO of the August Wilson center, along his daughter Kennedy; budding thespian Carter Redwood; Mark Clayton Southers (artistic director of the August Wilson Center); Kimberly Ellis, aka Dr. Goddess; Dr. Vernell A. Lillie (founder and artistic director of Kuntu Repertory Theatre); and Billy Jackson.

The opening gala was a who’s who of stage and screens stars. Just imagine Ted Lange (“Love Boat”), Dawnn Lewis (“A Different World”), Bern Nadette Stanis (“Good Times”), Glynn Turman (“Cooley High”), Vanessa Williams (“Soul Food”) and Tshidi Manye currently starring as Rafiki in the long-running Broadway musical “The Lion King,” performed “The Circle of Life” all in the same room. The parade of stars included Pittsburgh’s own Lamman Rucker (“Why Did I Get Married?”) and T’Keyah Crystal Keymah (“In Living Color”), serving as the celebrity co-chairs.

For those who love Black theatre and rubbing elbows with the stars this was the place to be, the area that has been dubbed by the NBTF as “Black Theatre Holy Ground.”

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