The festival which occurs every two years was founded in 1989 by Larry Leon Hamlin. Hamlin died just weeks before the 2007 festival. At the time of his death, the economy started a downward spiral placing the Arts in a dismal funk. The NBTF is no exception to the harsh economic times, but it continues to persevere in the memory of Hamlin. Hamlin’s mother and wife continues to keep the festival afloat by keeping it interesting. Part of keeping the festival interesting is the performance selections.
This season, in addition to “Crowns”, “The Marvin Gaye Story”, “Lady Patriot”, “Fried Chicken & Latkes” and many more fine performances by exceptionally talented individuals, the festival brings back Lorey Hayes’ Power Play. The newly reworked piece is being produced by VOZA RIVERS/NEW HERITAGE THEATRE GROUP and DEBRA ANN BYRD/TAKE WING AND SOAR PRODUCTIONS, INC.
The play stars Pauletta Pearson Washington and Roscoe Orman. Febone1960.net had the privilege of interviewing Mrs. Washington, the wife of two times academy award winner Denzel Washington. We wanted to explore Pauletta Pearson Washington, the woman. During the interview we discovered some interesting black history regarding Mrs. Washington and her family.
Malcolm X insisted that he was the sum of all the people he had met.
That is basically true of all us, including Pauletta Pearson Washington and her famous husband. Most of you know her as the wife of Denzel Washington, but if the truth be told, Pauletta was an accomplished performer before taking on that title and has certainly been a positive influence on the actor’s career. That impact doesn’t come from being the woman behind the man, but from the woman who stands by his side on a solid foundation developed during her childhood by her parents. Pauletta’s parents placed a strong emphasis on education.
For both Hayes and Washington, bringing this play to the Central Piedmont area of North Carolina is akin to a homecoming.
Lorey Hayes a N.C, native is a graduate of N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro. Needlees to say she was a theatre major, and has turned into a prolific award winning playwright. Power Play is one of those award winning plays and it’s rumored that the rework is also deserving of an award.
Washington’s journey to the central Piedmont brings her closer to the roots of that foundation that still shapes her life.
This area is possibly the derivative of the integrity plus education plus Aggie Pride equal Pauletta Pearson Washington equation.
Pauletta was born in Iredell, North Carolina to Phairlever and Arletta Smallwood Pearson. She was raised in Newton Conover, N.C. The area is located in the western part of the state of North Carolina.
Her father an educator and civil rights leader was educated at N.C. A&T college. Her mother was born and raised in Eden, N.C. Eden is not far from Greensboro where she matriculated to the all female Bennett College. Bennett not being far from the Aggie campus made the meeting between Phairlever and Arletta all the more probable. It probably did not hurt matters that Phairlever Pearson was the drum major of the school’s band. It might have even escalated the chances for the college’s first drum major to win the Bennett Bell’s heart. Armed with a Bachelors of Science degree in education and sciences, Phairlever married his sweetheart and they moved to the western part of the state where he began teaching.
The degree Phairlever received in August of 1935 was not just a piece of paper. It was sheep skin backed with the integrity and pride instilled in him during his tenure as a student and drum major at N.C. A&T college. A&T’s mission was to educate people of color and develop leaders who would deliver the descendants of slaves from economic bondage cultivated by a Willie Lynch mentality.
Education was thought to be the way out of this dark and weary abyss. There were limited employment opportunities for people of color, so in turn those educated would become educators of others. There existed hope that we would one day break through the discriminatory barriers to entry into the whites only non domestic workers job market. However, we needed to be prepared when this equal opportunity came knocking.
At the inception of her birth, equal opportunity was on the horizons. Major league baseball and the armed services had integrated. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ended school segregation in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. That opened the door for four freshmen students from Phairlever Alma Mater to initiate a nonviolent sit-in at the Greensboro’s Woolworths.
In listening to Pauletta describe how her father’s leadership lead to a smooth transition in the desegregation of the public schools without any opposition and violence, you knew that Phairlever Pearson had instilled that integrity and Aggie pride into his daughter.
The parents prepared Pauletta to take advantage of the opportunities that were beginning to surface. One of those opportunities was her successful matriculation to the all white Lenoir–Rhyne College in nearby Hickory, N.C. and the N.C. School Of The Arts where she earned her Bachelors of Arts Degree. Mrs. Washington also received a Masters in Fine Arts from North Texas State University. It was a matter of choice and not because she felt that the schools were superior to historical black colleges/universities (“HBCU”).
Fueled with a desire for their daughter to succeed in her life pursuits, Pauletta’s parents transported her back and forth to Charlotte, N.C. for piano lessons for ten years. So talented, Pauletta had become a member of the National Guild of Piano teachers in the sixth grade.
In 1970, opportunity came knocking for their daughter when she was asked to enter the Ms. Newton beauty contest. It might have been surprising to some but her historical win was not a surprise to her parents and those who knew her. The win elevated her to the Miss N.C. Beauty Pageant.
It is said that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. In Pauletta’ case it was education plus integrity plus self pride and pure talent that lead her into becoming the first black to not only enter the Miss North Carolina Beauty Pageant as a contestant, but to be selected by her peers as Miss Congeniality. Those peers happened to be white. It also placed her as the undisputed winner of the talent contest, bringing an all white audience to their feet after she delivered her rendition of the theme from the Valley Of the Dolls.
The record books places her firmly as second runner up in that contest in 1970. This is still quite a feat in the land of Jesse Helms.
Armed with a strong foundation (the sum of education, integrity and Aggie Pride) , Pauletta left N.C. in pursuit of an acting career. That strong foundation lead to a promising stage career on Broadway, film and television.
It also caught the attention of an unknown but up and coming actor named Denzel Washington who asked for her hand in marriage three times. See August 2013 Ebony Magazine In a recent interview with Ebony Magazine, Mr. Washington admits that there was something special about Pauletta and her family. He knew that he wanted to part of the Pearson family. The third marriage proposal was the charm and he and Pauletta have been married for thirty years. With Pauletta at the helm, they have raised four children.
Pauletta’s integrity and pride have had a profound influence on his career performances which has lauded him several awards including two Oscars and a Tony Award.
Although she and Denzel attended all white colleges, they know the importance of historically black colleges (“HBCU”). Their offsprings (John David, Katio, Malcolm and Olivia) have successfully earned their own college and post college degrees from an HBCU.
Black history is also something she thinks is very important. That may explain the selection of the roles she has selected as an actress, like Oprah Winfrey’s Beloved, and August Wilson’s Two Trains Running.
Pauletta and Denzil now have an empty nest which allows her to return full time to an acting career. She has landed the starring role in “Lorey Hayes’ Power Play”.
Opportunity now avails itself for all in the Piedmont triad to witness the talents of Pauletta Pearson Washington. The play starts its run tonight (July 30, 2013) at 3 PM at the NBTF. For more information, please go online to nbtf.org.
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