Special Events

National Black Theatre Festival - August 2 - 8, 2021

The 17th biennial National Black Theatre Festival (NBTF) rolls out the purple carpet August 2 - 8, 2021 in Winston-Salem, transforming North Carolina's city of arts and innovation in a mega-performing arts center with over 130 performances in a number of the city’s venues. Theatre workshops, films, seminars, a teen poetry slam and a star-studded celebrity gala all work together to accomplish the goal of making the National Black Theatre Festivals one of the best theater festivals in the country. The history of celebrity appearances and performances at the National Black Theatre Festival is not only impressive, but also extensive. Visitors can expect to see a number of familiar faces as well as up-and-coming amateurs to the big stage. Each phenomenal festival saturates our city with thousands of theatergoers and theatre professionals from all around the globe into our heavily art-inspired city.

2019 Celebrity Co-Chairs

Each year two celebrities are appointed co-chairs for the festival events. The co-chairs for the 2019 festival were actress Margaret 'Shug' Avery and Broadway sensation Chester Gregory.

Avery, best known for her role as Shug Avery in the 1985 film The Color Purple, credits the National Black Theatre Festival for much of her theatre career success which spans more than 50 years. Avery was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her Shug Avery character. Avery's career includes lead and supporting roles in numerous television and motion picture films, including Blueberry Hill, White Man's Burden, Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, Meet the Browns, and Proud Mary to name a few. Currently, Avery currently plays recurring character Helen Patterson in BET's series Being Mary Jane.

Gregory, the only actor and performer to headline three NBTF shows, is best known for his stage performance as Jackie Wilson in Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theatre’s production of The Jackie Wilson Story. The show culminated at New York’s famed Apollo Theater and received rave reviews from The New York Times in which it reported, “There is essentially one reason – and it’s a very good one – to see The Jackie Wilson Story, and that is the star: Chester Gregory.” Gregory later booked his debut Broadway role as Seaweed in the Tony Award winning musical Hairspray, before continuing on to star in the original Broadway cast of Tarzan as Terk, and Cry-Baby as Dupree. His 2009 performance as Jimmy Early in the national tour of Dreamgirls compelled a New York Post theatre critic to say that Gregory’s performance “isn’t scene-stealing, but robbery on an Enron scale.”



2019 Festival Highlights

Opening Night Gala

The star-studded Opening Night Gala begins with a vibrant parade of powerful African drummers and dancers of Otésha Creative Arts Ensemble followed by a grand procession of more than 40 celebrities of stage, television and film. Enjoy a wonderfully prepared dinner and awards ceremony in the newly renovated Benton Convention Center. Afterwards, gala attendees and celebrities together proceed to the historic Stevens Center in downtown Winston-Salem for a taste of Broadway with the Tony award-winning musical Jelly’s Last Jam, presented by the North Carolina Black Repertory Company. You'll even have a chance to meet members from the original Broadway cast. 

International Vendors Market
Every day during the festival
Location: Benton Convention Center (main level)

Discover unique treasures from all cultures, afrocentric art, and multi-talented global artisans. This shopper’s paradise has something for everyone, including the Authors’ Pavilion with Coffee & Conversation (Saturday, Aug. 2), live entertainment and demonstrations. 

National Black Theatre Festival Hall of Fame and Museum Exhibit 

Attendees preview what's to come at this National Black Theatre Hall of Fame and Museum pop-up exhibit. On display during the 2019 festival, the exhibit consists of images, video, and installation pieces to showcase the history and significance of the work of African American theatre companies. North Carolina Black Repertory Company is fundraising to open a year-round NBTF Hall of FAM designed to permanently preserve the cultural contributions of black actors, playwrights, directors, and others of significance. 

NBTF Film Fest
Schedule TBD
Locations: a/perture Cinema and Forsyth Central Library Downtown

Celebrate independent filmmakers of color and their contributions to the industry. A few featured selections include Black FlagBewildered, and Spoiler Alert, among many others. Films will show in during the morning hours with an exact schedule to be released at a later date. 

Words & Verses
Location: The Benton Convention Center – Salem Ballroom; 301 W. Fifth Street

Formerly Midnight Poetry Jam, this year brings a new name, new time, new host, new energy, new faces and more chances for festival attendees to get on stage. Starting at 10:30 p.m., join NBTF as they present special featured poets, along with celebrity guest appearances. Bring your brightest words and let them shine for the world on "Black Theatre Holy Ground." Hosted by Larry “LB” Barron. 

TeenTastic (Collaborative Teen Initiative) 
Every day during the festival.
Location: Education Annex at Winston-Salem Fairgrounds; 414 Deacon Blvd.

TeenTastic offers programs to entertain and engage teens ages 13 – 17 through special activities including a fashion show, spoken word, a live DJ nightly, and performances from teens in the community.


Other Special Programming:

  • Artists Career Networking Showcase - provides an opportunity for artists, including actors, directors, playwrights, and designers (costume, lights, set, sound) to audition and interview with arts presenters, casting directors and theatre companies from across the country.
  • "Around the Town" Cultural Trolley Tours - Details TBA
  • International Civil Rights Museum Tour - The museum that features the original lunch counter and stools where the Greensboro Four began their “sit-in” protest on Feb. 1, 1960. Experience a moment in time that changed the nation. (August 2 only, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.)
    To reserve a seat visit www.triadculture.org.
  • Garland Thompson, Sr. Readers’ Theatre of New Works – A showcase of more than 30 original works written by renowned and aspiring playwrights. Professional actors read for an audience of theatre professionals, scholars, and general public. Free admission.
  • International Colloquium – This is a collaborative effort between NBTF, Winston-Salem Stat  University, and the Black Theatre Network. The 2019 theme for Colloquium is "The Future of Black Creative/Performing Arts as Liberatory Practice." Dr. Aku Kadogo delivers the keynote address
    on Tuesday, July 30. The four-day forum (July 30 – August 2) is facilitated by international theatre professionals and academicians.
  • Workshops and Seminars - Enjoy free, interactive workshops every morning. Topics lined up include (more to be announced):
    - Intensive character development with Vera Katz
    - Harness the power of social media to "get butts in the seat and dollars in the bag"
    - Learn how to protect yourself from harassment in the theatre workplace
    - Experience the artistic rhythms of Congolese Dance.


First Timer Tips 

Whether this year's Festival is your first one, or you need a quick crash course on NBTF, here's all you need to know in a nutshell:

There are more than a dozen festival hotels to choose from. All that are outside of what's considered to be walking distance of the festival's hub (Benton Convention Center and Marriott Winston-Salem), offer complimentary shuttle service during the festival. 

Getting to Winston-Salem
Winston-Salem is conveniently located at the crossroads of major thoroughfares of Interstate 85, I-77, I-40, Salem Parkway (formerly Business 40) and Highway 52. Centrally located in the state, Winston-Salem is just shy of two hours west of Raleigh, and 1.5 hours north of Charlotte.
Driving in? You've got options! The nearest airport is Piedmont Triad International in Greensboro, just 25 minutes east of Winston-Salem. You can also fly into Charlotte Douglas International airport in Charlotte, or Raleigh-Durham International. Both are easy drives into the city. 

Purchasing Tickets – Tickets are on sale now! Advance tickets may be purchased for the 2019 festival by calling the Festival box office at (336) 723-7907. These tickets will be mailed up to two weeks prior to the festival or picked up at the Benton Convention Center. Purchase online tickets online here. Tickets range in price from $9 to $56.

Getting to Performances
If staying at one of the host hotels, complimentary shuttle service is offered to/from the performance venues. 

Festival Hub
The majority of NBTF activity takes place at Winston-Salem's downtown Benton Convention Center. Here you find the International Vendors Market, visitor information specialists to answer any questions, ticket box office, and a few performances and workshops. Across the street is the Marriott Winston-Salem where all of the buses that go directly to the performance venues depart and return to. If staying at a host hotel, you will take the shuttle from your hotel, to the Marriott, then "transfer" to your appropriate shuttle that will take you to the venue.

Make Time
In addition to the performances, enjoy the myriad of cultural offerings in Winston-Salem. Such offerings include Delta Arts Center, St. Philips Church at Old Salem Museums & Gardens and Diggs Gallery on the campus of Winston-Salem State University. Browse this website for more information on what to do, what to see, and where to eat. 

Festival History
Founded in Winston-Salem by the late Larry Leon Hamlin in 1989 and hosted by the North Carolina Black Repertory Company (NCBRC), NBTF is a biennial event uniting black theatre companies from around the world and ensuring the presence of this phenomenal genre. Hamlin described the experience as "MARVTASTIC," a combination of marvelous and fantastic! With the support of Dr. Maya Angelou, who served as the Festival's first Chairperson, the National Black Theatre Festival was born. The '89 Festival offered 30 performances by 17 of America's best professional black theatre companies. It attracted national and international media coverage. According to The New York Times, "The 1989 National Black Theatre Festival was one of the most historic and culturally significant events in the history of black theatre and American theatre in general." Over 10,000 people attended. Today that number reaches well over 65,000 attendees.

Ten years prior to starting the National Black Theatre Festival, Hamlin founded another black theater movement in Winston-Salem. The North Carolina Black Repertory Company is the state’s first professional Black theater company. NCBRC is committed to introducing diverse audiences to Black classics, the development and production of new works, improving artistic quality, and sustaining Black theatre internationally. 

NCBRC presents three to four productions annually featuring members of its ensemble or through collaborations with other theatre companies from around the country. The annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration and the holiday presentation of Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity have become two of the Company’s staples. The critically acclaimed NCBRC production, Mahalia, Queen of Gospel (written and directed by Mabel Robinson, the company’s former Artistic Director) was a National Black Theatre Festival showcase performance.

To learn more about the National Black Theatre Festival visit their site at www.nbtf.org. Also, to keep updates on NC Black Repertory Company visit www.ncblackrep.org.


To see what else is going on in Winston-Salem during festival week, click here.

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