Audiences at the biennial National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., this summer may marvel at how much it still resembles the vision of its founder, Larry Leon Hamlin, who died in 2007. Thanks in large part to the steady hand of his widow Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin, who became executive producer after his death, the festival (which runs July 31-Aug. 5) expects to draw 65,000 visitors to see 125 performances of 35 shows at 20 venues. But on the second night of the festival, a select few will also take part in an event that heralds the introduction of a new presence: Jackie Alexander.
Alexander was hired last year as artistic director of both the festival and of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company, the organization behind the festival. While the festival has flourished, the theatre itself had become the forgotten older sibling. Alexander has already breathed new life into the NCBRC with his 2016-2017 season, for which he’s directed all three plays, including one of his own and a world premiere. At his first festival, Alexander’s footprint will be smaller, but his signature will be on a special meet-and-greet on the second night, which will bring together playwrights with directors, artistic directors, and commercial producers, including Broadway producers Stephen C. Byrd—the kinds of folks who might lead to future productions down the line.