Chris Hicks Band at EMFfringe
The Triad offers a host of opportunities to experience the performing arts this summer. For classical music lovers, the Eastern Music Festival (EMF) on the campus of Guilford College in Greensboro enters its 48th season of concerts with internationally acclaimed guest artists. Running from June 27 through August 1, EMF features 90 events brought together by renowned Music Director Gerard Schwarz. In addition to Schwarz, a 12-time Grammy nominee, participating artists include Avery Fischer Award winning violinists Sarah Chang and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, internationally-acclaimed pianists Peter Serkin and Horacio Gutiérrez, and cellist Xavier Phillips. You’ll also find innovative and eclectic schedules of alternative music performances as part of EMFfringe.
This year marks the return of the biennial National Black Theater Festival (NBTF) to Winston-Salem. This “International Celebration and Reunion of Spirit” August 3–8 draws 50,000 participants who experience more than 100 new works and classic offerings from black theater companies across the country. The festival includes workshops, seminars, a Midnight Poetry Jam, Reader’s Theater and various initiatives for youth, including a spotlight on college productions. NBFT grew out of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company, founded in 1979 as the first professional black theater company in the state.
Elwanda Ingram, a Kinston native and professor of English affiliated with Winston Salem State University for 30 years, has attended the Black Theater Festival since its inception in 1989. She offers these thoughts on why the Festival is such a significant happening and how you can get involved.
Elwanda Ingram with National
“It’s a wonderful event that transforms the whole city,” she says. “Black theater is for everyone, not just African Americans. Because of the subject matter of the plays, anyone can relate. Some are designed for young adults, some focus on male issues or female issues, some are musicals and some are more serious than others. There are plays featuring actors and actresses well known from their appearances in movies, on television or on stage.” See a list of the 2009 Mainstage and Fringe productions here.
Ingram says that volunteering is a great way to get involved with the Festival. This year, she’s coordinating the hosts and hostesses who serve as greeters at one of the headquarters hotels, the Marriott.
“After the plays every evening people come back to the hotel to mingle, see the stars and take pictures, and we greet them,” she says. “Volunteers can also serve on the welcome committee, help transport the thousands of people who come from out of town, or usher at one of the many theaters throughout the city where the plays are performed.”
Celebrities are another draw. This year, Ted Lange and Wendy Raquel Robinson are Festival Co-Chairs. An Opening Night Gala August 3 will feature a procession of more than 50 celebrities of television, film and stage.
“Those stars who are veterans of the festival know what to expect in terms of people wanting to take pictures with them, and they’re friendly about doing that, with just being around ‘folk,'” Ingram says. “There’s generally a press conference every day during the festival, where people can see them, ask questions, and take pictures with them. In the evenings there is a party or a live band at the Marriott where everyone can also mingle and dance.”
Festival attendees also patronize downtown restaurants, many of which extend their evening hours to accommodate the crowds. “Sweet Potatoes is a very popular venue, and some go to Meta’s (soul food) or The Mellow Mushroom,” Ingram reports. “Those who have transportation may venture out to other eateries throughout the city. Since I live right here in Winston-Salem, I generally come home to eat!”
Whatever your interest, Ingram says the National Black Theater Festival can’t be missed. “It’s an opportunity for everyone to expand their cultural horizons,” she says. “Culture enriches you and makes you a well-rounded individual. Theater is one of the best cultural experiences you can have, whether it’s a Broadway production, a local production, or a professional production. And especially during the difficult economic times we’re in, we need whatever kinds of cultural outlets we can enjoy to just make it through another day. It’s healthy to do that, it really is.”