It’s that time again. I’m talking about The National Black Theater festival which occurs every two years in Winston Salem North Carolina.
Opening in 1989 by its’ founder, Larry Leon Hamlin, the festival will be celebrating it’s 20th anniversary.
Just like the first festival, this year’s festival will open with Micki Grant’s ” Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope”.
It is hoped that this year’s anniversary festival will bring back the nostalgia of the very first festival.
Unfortunately, there will be some missing people.
First of all, the festival lost its’ found Larry Leon Hamlin in 2007. Hamlin died two months before the 2007 festival at his from an extended illness.
Prior to Hamlin’s death, the world was shocked and sadden by the death of Yolanda King. The eldest child of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, who melded her father’s message of racial equality and nonviolence with her own calling as an actor and a motivational speaker, died in Santa Monica, Calif one month prior to Hamlin’s death. The 51 year old King was constant present at each festival.
This year, the festival will miss yet another participate. On July 8 2009, Judi Ann mason departed this world.
You may not be familiar with her name, but you certainly know her work.
Judi a native of Bossier City Louisiana was barely 20 years old when she hired as a writer on the CBS hit Good Times by TV legend Norman Lear. Mason’s other TV writing credits included writing or co-writing for primetime network shows such as A Different World (NBC), American Gothic (CBS), Beverly Hills 90210 (FOX), Sanford (NBC), and the Emmy-nominated series I’ll Fly Away (NBC)
The 54 year old Grambling State University alumna began in theater and penned over 25 published and produced plays such as: Living Fat, for which she won the Kennedy Center’s Norman Lear Award for comedy writing at only age 19. A Star Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hole in Heaven, garnering her the first Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award in 1977. Mason also became one of the youngest playwrights – of any race – ever to be produced Off-Broadway. Last fall, she served as inaugural national honorary chair of the First Southern Black Theatre Festival, held in Shreveport. In addition, she was lauded for her latest play Storm Stories: True Dramas of Hurricane Katrina.
Ms. Mason screen credits included Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit as a co-writer with James Orr & Jim Cruickshank. Before dying unexpectedly from a ruptured aorta in Los Angeles, Mason was in the midst of working on her independent film scheduled to shoot in December. Called Motherland, the story was about a college history instructor taking middle-class African American students to Africa.
Ms. Mason also found time for academia, sharing her writing and producing knowledge as a visiting professor at such institutions as the University of Florida and the University of Louisville.
Mason also developed and produced the murder mystery play entitled The Cornbread Man at the University of Florida. Opening night included the presence of Ted Mann. Mann who is an American theatre producer and director and the Artistic Director of the Circle in the Square Theatre and who was also fond of Mason, made it point to fly to Gainesville, Florida to apart of Judi’s opening night.
Chaired by Ted Lange of Love Boat and That’s My Mama fame, and Wendy Raquel Robinson from the Steve Harvey show, the festival will go forward in celebrating its’ 20th anniversary on August 3rd thru the 8th with such productions as Zora and Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar and Grill.
Hamlin, King and Mason’s presence will be missed, but the performances will be worth seeing, so get your tickets and join in on the festivities.
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