Interviews Archive/July 2011
Updated June 29, 2011
Ms. Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin -- Executive Producer, The National Black Theatre Festival
By Jay Whipple/Trend Magazine Online™
I must admit that I was a bit nervous about this interview and the process of landing the appointment. This was the first person that I have interviewed in quite some time that I did not know personally and I had no idea of what to expect. I was able to contact Ms. Hamlin as a result of a tip from Ms. Connie Smith, also a Winston-Salem native and proprietor of Triad City Tours which conducts area Black History Tours. I have known and have been working with her for over a decade with Queen City Tours and Travel. I was getting a bit dissuaded after sending several emails for over three weeks without a response. With my interview deadline rapidly approaching, I decided to just pick up the phone and call over to the office of the National Black Theatre Festival. I was quite surprised when the gentleman that answered the phone stated that his name was Larente’ Hamlin. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm I thought, is this a coincidence? Turns out he is indeed the stepson of Ms. Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin, my target for this interview. At first he was a bit reluctant to furnish me with his mother’s email – which I can understand – but was willing to confirm that the address that I had obtained from Ms. Smith was indeed correct. I gave him a brief overview and purpose for my wanting to get in contact with Ms. Hamlin – this article – and he was nice enough to furnish me with his email address to forward my previous correspondence to his mother. The next thing you know, Walla, a quick response from Ms. Hamlin! Persistence pays!
I was given a time of 3PM to call Ms. Hamlin on Monday June 20, 2011; her phone rang at precisely that time. I did not want to miss out on this much anticipated opportunity. I was quite relieved to find her very cordial, friendly, and honest about her role as the Executive Producer of the highly acclaimed and esteemed National Black Theatre Festival which is a biennial week-long event that has been taking place since 1989. This event was the brainchild of the late Larry Leon Hamlin (1948 – 2007) who also founded the North Carolina Black Repertory Company in 1979 which was the first professional organization of its kind in North Carolina. He was a graduate of the prestigious Johnson and Wales University in Providence, RI, and their company produces area Black theatre to include the highly-acclaimed MLK Birthday Celebration in February – Black History Month – and the Black Nativity play in December; both in Winston-Salem, NC. I have attended the annual MLK celebration and it is well worth the trip up from Charlotte, NC. I must admit that I had known about the National Black Theatre Festival for quite some time but like other folks in Charlotte, I had been procrastinating. Not this year, I will be there with bells on to rub elbows with some of the invited celebrities and other theatre attendees. I can’t wait.
Now let’s get to the matter at hand; my interview with Ms. Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin, in the form of a Q & A.
Q (Jay): What is your official title?
A (Hamlin): I am the Executive Producer of the National Black Theatre Festival
Q (Jay): How long have you held this position?
A (Hamlin): I have been the Executive Producer of the National Black Theatre Festival since 2007
Q (Jay): Where were you born?
A (Hamlin): I was born right here in Winston-Salem
Q (Jay): How did you and Mr. Hamlin meet?
A (Hamlin): It was at a social event in 1979 which was a dinner for professionals. I was there selling cosmetics and he was there selling his company. We got married in 1981.
Q (Jay): Did the two of you discuss the idea of the Black Theatre Festival before it materialized?
A (Hamlin): Of course we did, he was my husband!
Q (Jay): Were you and him the least bit skeptical about holding the event in Winston-Salem?
A (Hamlin): No, we both had lived other places and knew that there was a need for it and that the location would not matter if it was a good product. Besides, Winston-Salem is a very attractive venue; we have great food, reasonable hotels, adequate public transportation, and people like the idea of being able to get from one side of the city to the next within 10 minutes.
Q (Jay): How did the two of you manage your marriage and at the same time the festival and theatre company?
A (Hamlin): I worked mainly behind the scenes and he worked directly in the theatre and company. He was the creative force behind the things that we would do together.
Q (Jay): What is your favorite part of your job as the executive producer?
A (Hamlin): I like meeting people and networking with theatre companies around the world. I enjoy it when they send in their plays for consideration. I also like the excitement of planning the festival and working with great consultants from all over the United States.
Q (Jay): What is your least favorite part of your job as the executive producer?
A (Hamlin): Fundraising, trying to convince people that you have an excellent product.
Q (Jay): What are your hobbies?
A (Hamlin): Travel. I really like to visit New York City here in the states and South and West Africa, Aruba, and the Caribbean islands.
Q (Jay): Do you have a favorite celebrity who has participated in your event?
A (Hamlin): I like them all!
Q (Jay): What Black celebrity would you like to see participate in your event that has not already?
A (Hamlin): Actually, this event is not all about the celebrities, it is about Black theatre; they are of course an extra added attraction for attendees. We invite Black celebrities that have a connection with Black theatre.
Q (Jay): Do white people attend your event?
A (Hamlin): We have about a 10% white audience. It is important for other races to know that although this event focuses on Black theatre, the content is about human conditions that we can all relate. We strongly encourage diversity at the National Black Theatre Festival.
Q (Jay): What are your future goals/plans for the National Black Theatre Festival?
A (Hamlin): We have a really good product and we will continue to improve on what we have. Our event is becoming more of a family event focusing on children, young adults, and seniors.
Q (Jay): You were recently feted at a New York City gala on Sunday May 22, 2011; how was that experience?
A (Hamlin): Great! There were about 450 people and a lot of history in the room. I received an award along with Sidney Poitier [My favorite actor – buy his books], Ruby Dee, Alicia Keys, and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, to name a few. Note: The event was co-hosted by CBS News’ Randall Pinkston, and the lovely and talented Lynn Whitfield (The Josephine Baker Story). Dr. Maya Angelou served as the honorary chair.
Q (Jay): What are your final thoughts concerning this year’s National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, NC?
A (Hamlin): It is going to be an excellent festival and we will give 110% to ensure its continued success. The shows will be so outstanding that it will be hard to select just one. We selected the best 34 productions out of 115 submissions and will have representation from 12 different states, Canada, and South Africa. I am extending a personal invitation to folks from the Queen City/Charlotte to make the trip up.
In closing I would like to thank Dr. Maya Angelou -- who has been there from the very beginning – for her continued strong support.
For more information on attending the National Black Theatre Festival, click here!
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