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National Black Theatre Festival - July 29 - August 3, 2019

The 16th biennial National Black Theatre Festival (NBTF) rolls out the purple carpet July 29 - August 3, 2019 in Winston-Salem, transforming North Carolina's city of arts and innovation in a mega-performing arts center with over 100 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 are 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.”

More than fifty celebrities of stage, screen and television are expected to attend the Festival. Highlights include the Opening Night Gala, Theatre Productions, Readers' Theatre of New Works/Plays, International Colloquium (presented by NBTF, Winston-Salem State University and the Black Theatre Network), the Youth/Celebrity Project and TeenTastic, and the International Vendor's Market which features vendors and crafts from every corner of the globe and live entertainment to add a little flair to your shopping experience.

Theatre Festival Play Schedule – A schedule of plays and events can be obtained by contacting the NBTF for a printed schedule or going online to The schedule will include the play’s title, date, time, location, and the play number.  Some plays are performed several times during the week, so knowing the play number is very important. 

Purchasing Tickets – 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 M.C. Benton Convention Center. Purchase online tickets online here.

Getting Around –  Transportation will be available to theatre venues from designated festival hotels July 29 - August 3, 2019. Bus schedules will be available at NBTF hotel lobbies. Transportation for festival programs is free of charge. 

Free Activities:

  • Readers’ Theatre of New Works – A showcase of original works written and read by renowned and aspiring artists for an audience of theatre professionals and the general public. There is no admission fee for this Festival component.
  • Youth/Celebrity Project – Children interact with celebrities and theatre professionals, attend age-appropriate productions and have the opportunity to perform.
  • TeenTastic (Collaborative Youth Initiative) – Focuses on providing teens ages 13-17 with Marvtastic experiences developed to capture the talent and creativity of this generation and motivate them to excel in their areas of interest.
  • Workshops and seminars facilitated by celebrities, academicians, and theatre professionals. Check information desks for workshop schedules.
  • National Black Film Fest – This is a showcase of work from independent filmmakers.
  • International Vendors Market – This is the place to be when the shows are over. Join vendors representing all corners of the globe juxtaposed with sponsor booths.  Live entertainment adds to personal shopping pleasure. The Vendors Market will be open August 5 – August 8 at the Benton Convention Center. For more information, contact Vendor Coordinator, Rhonda Caldwell at (704) 332-5819.
  • The Collegiate One–Act Play Reading Marathon, coordinated by North Carolina Central University’s Department of Theatre and hosted by The National Black Theatre Festival®, aims to acknowledge and foster student playwrights through the recognition and exposure of their dramatic works.  
  • International Colloquium – This is a collaborative effort between NBTF, Winston-Salem State University, and the Black Theatre Network.  The Black Theatre: Reflections of Citizenship, Access, Freedom and Criminal Justice is the theme for 2017.  The four-day forum (August 1 – August 4) is facilitated by international theatre professionals and academicians.

Late Night – Get ready to paint the town purple and black (the official Festival colors)! Each night after of the plays, social gatherings are held all over the city. Downtown streets and sidewalk cafes are filled with people and music. Celebrity receptions and jazz performances are held at the host hotel and the Midnight Poetry Jam is a major attraction with overflow crowds. The Delta Arts Center offers an elegant late night Jazz Buffet if you want to break away to a quieter setting.

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. 

Check out this National Black Theatre Festival Documentary Teaser below.


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 Also, to keep updates on NC Black Repertory Company visit


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

Special Offers

2019 National Black Theatre Festival

Mark your calendar, reserve your tickets, and put on your purple and black because the National Black Theatre Festival is…

July 29 2019 - August 03 2019
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