I spent much of the week in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, attending the week-long 16th biennial National Black Theatre Festival, which presented 30 plays and musicals from black theaters in 16 states and South Africa.
Founded in 1989, the festival has become an integral part of the life of the city, and goes way beyond just the shows themselves – with free workshops, a film series, celebrity appearances (Leslie Uggams, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Andre de Shields are among those who came down from New York), a huge vendor market , a poetry jam, and many parties. (The festival coincided this year with the annual conference of the American Theatre Critics Association.)
Of the seven shows I got to see, my two favorite both happened to be by New York-based theater artists — Harlem 9’s “48 Hours in Holy Ground,” six short original plays inspired by (but very different from) African-American classic plays such as Lorraine Hansberry’s “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”; and “First by Faith: The Life Of Mary McLeod Bethune,” written and performed by Richarda Abrams, one of numerous (mostly solo) shows about celebrated/historical figures (Others were about cabaret performer Bricktop, Sammy Davis Jr., Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne, Booker T. Washington, August Wilson, and Bass Reeves, a freed slave who became the first African-American United States Deputy Marshal, whose life may have inspired the character of the Lone Ranger.)
One of the best aspects of the festival was audience reaction. When Abrams as Bethune said “Your voting rights are still being tampered with and women’s rights are in danger,” the audience as one hummed an “mmmHmmmm” in loud affirmation.
This year’s festival was heavy on musicals, as one of the festival organizers explained, because North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper proclaimed 2019 The Year of Music.
Click on photographs below to read details about some of the NBTF shows, and events, including my micro-reviews of a few of the shows I saw.
Broadway shows closing in August
Be More Chill August 11
The Prom August 11
The Cher Show August 18
King Kong August 18
Pretty Woman August 18
What The Constitution Means to Me August 24
Beautiful October 27
Waitress January 5, 2020
The Week in New York Theater News
Sondheim: One of the astounding things about Hal is that he never listened to music for pleasure, only for work….Hal’s openness to things he didn’t immediately respond to was one of the things that made him such an ideal collaborator.
Susan Stroman: I received two great pieces of advice from Hal. Travel whenever you can — exposing yourself to different cultures and distinctive art will only enrich your mind and abilities. And make sure that after every opening night, no matter the outcome, you have a meeting for a new project scheduled the very next morning…
‘Six,” a musical/pop concert about the marriage, divorce and beheading of the six wives of Henry VIII that began at the Edinburgh Festival, is coming to Broadway. It’s scheduled to open at the Brooks Atkinson on March 12, 2020
In “Hannah Senesh,” a play running through August 18th at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the title character is a Jewish teenager in Europe in the 1930s who starts keeping a diary at age 13. In it, she complains about the ugly pink party dress her mother bought for her, dreams of her “ideal boy” and observes the growing anti-Semitism around her. “Despite everything I do believe that the world was created for good,” Senesh writes.
But half way through “Hannah Senesh,” it becomes clear that her story swerves in a very different direction from Anne Frank
Vineyard Theater 2019-2020 season
(specific dates not yet determined)
Conceived and director by Tina Satter
Based on FBI transcripts, this adaptation tells the still unfolding story of former Air Force linguist Reality Winner who is surprised at her home by the FBI, interrogated, and then charged with leaking evidence of Russian interference in U.S elections. Reality remains in jail
Dana H. by Lucas Hnath
Dana was a chaplain of a psych ward where she met a charismatic patient, an ex-convict searching for redemption. A harrowing true story, Dana was held captive with her life in this man’s hands — trapped in a series of Florida motels, disoriented and terrified — for five months. Told in Dana’s own words and reconstructed for the stage by her son Lucas Hnath
Tuvalu, or The Saddest Song
By Antoinette Nwandu
Twelve-year-old Jackie tries to make sense of her life in 1990s Los Angeles
Three mass shootings in a single week — in Gilroy, California last Sunday leaving three dead; in El Paso,Texas leaving at least 20 dead yesterday: in Dayton, Ohio, leaving at least nine dead this morning — provoke, once again, many questions. Some of the questions are specific to theater artists and theatergoers. It was in Dayton two years ago that the Human Race Theatremounted the first full production of a play called “26 Pebbles,” about a previous mass shooting….
In @NYTimes, novelist @viet_t_nguyen on why he hates Miss Saigon (being revived in LA), which “perpetuates deeply held notions of Asian inferiority.” He praises @DavidHenryHwang‘s M Butterly & calls for more Asian narratives.
Read intriguing comments https://t.co/XCTy99SLGy
— New York Theater (@NewYorkTheater) August 4, 2019