I always wanted to plan my vacation around something that I love. This is the first year that I made that dream come true. I attended the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston Salem, N.C. When I realized the festival took place in August I was hesitant, I knew it was going to be hot. I decided to make the drive which was not bad, seven hours through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina on a Sunday afternoon.


Prior to the festival I received my media credentials and a program detailing what was going to take place for the week. There were staged readings read by professional actors and written by renowned and aspiring playwrights, workshops and seminars, a film festival, NBTF Poetry Jam, parties, press conferences, celebrity receptions and shopping at the International Vendors’ Market.

One of the best parts of the week is the celebrity sightings. I had an opportunity to speak to a few stars that I met many years ago. People like Lou Myers, you remember the man who was the cook on “ A Different World?” He was there and so personable. He had been in Pittsburgh years ago working on the Piano Lesson. Glynn Turman, whose daughter Stephanie lives in Pittsburgh, was just as friendly; I reminded him that I sat next to him at a Kuntu Repertory performance. I had a great conversation with Bern Nadette Stanis, Thelma from Good Times. She looks great. She has authored several books and was set up for a book signing. One book is titled, “Situations 101: Relationships the good, the bad and the ugly” and also “For Men Only,” a collection of poems dedicated to the men who have shown her love in her life time. While on the show “Good Times” brother J.J. was the artist, however Stanis is the artist in real life, some of her artwork is displayed on her website ­www.thelmaofgoodtimes.com.

There has been a question that I want to ask all actors from the seventies and eighties, are you getting your residuals? In short are you being paid properly for all of these reruns? Stanis told me that she is getting residuals but it is based on a contract signed many years ago. So much has changed since that time. Just think cable television has come along, DVD, Netflix and more. She said the contracts should be updated. Here is something I didn’t know about Stanis, she is a graduate of Julliard and she is married with two daughters.

I also spoke with the man who is the bailiff on Judge Judy, Petri Hawkins-Byrd. Hawkins–Byrd was actually a bailiff in Brooklyn, N.Y., family court in the 1980s, guarding judges that included Sheindlin. He left that job and moved to California. In 1996, when Hawkins-Byrd was working as a high school guidance counselor in San Mateo, Calif., he read in Liz Smith’s syndicated gossip column that his former boss Judy Sheindlin had a show in the works. He sent a congratulatory note that included an offer to the effect of, “If you ever need a bailiff, my uniform still fits.” The rest is history. Hawkins-Byrd was spotted at the festival and spoken word is his thing.

I’m already making plans for 2013, see you there.

(E-mail the columnist at deb­bie­norrell@aol.com.)

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