Larry Leon Hamlin, founder of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company and the International Black Theatre Festival


Larry Leon Hamlin founded the North Carolina Black Repertory Company (NC Black Rep) in 1979, the first professional Black theatre company in the State of North Carolina. Under Mr. Hamlin’s leadership, NC Black Rep quickly grew into one of the leading Black Theatres in America, recognized not only for the artistic excellence on display through its productions, but also for the company’s ethnically and socially conscious programming that centered on the joy, legacy, and empowerment of the African American community.

In 1988 at a theatre conference in Atlanta, Mr. Hamlin heard a discussion on the dire straits of African American theatre companies across the country and decided to take on a new challenge; one with the goal of uniting these companies to ensure the survival of Black theatre into the next millennium. His answer to the problem, his dream, was an event where companies would be able to perform before the public, troubleshoot challenges faced by all, share resources, and raise awareness of the quality and importance of their work, a National Black Theatre Festival. To start the process, Mr. Hamlin approached Dr. Maya Angelou, who happened to be a Winston-Salem resident and professor at Wake Forest University, asking for her assistance. Dr. Angelou agreed and became the Chairperson of the first festival inviting as celebrity guests, television talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and the cast of the Off-Broadway production The Blacks, a play in which Dr. Angelou had starred, and one that included theatre legends James Earl Jones, Roscoe Lee Brown, Louis Gossett, Jr., Cicely Tyson, Godfrey Cambridge, and Charles Gordone. The inaugural National Black Theatre festival (NBTF), was held August 14-20, 1989, and its theme was “A Celebration and Reunion of Spirit.” The festival offered thirty performances by seventeen of America’s best professional Black theatres companies. It attracted national and international media coverage with the New York Times calling it, “one of the most historic and cultural events in the history of Black Theatre and American theatre in general.”  Mr. Hamlin’s dream was now a reality, one that as of today, has generated over $230 million dollars to the economy of Winston-Salem.

With the success of the National Black Theatre Festival, Mr. Hamlin found himself at the helm of the World Black Theatre Movement, and he worked tirelessly to connect Black theatre and production companies globally, bringing companies, actors, directors, playwrights, scholars from across the United States, England, Jamaica, Nigeria, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, Ghana, and Senegal to NBTF. His vision was to create a nurturing environment for these entities to network and share tangible and artistic resources. By doing so, he knew they would be strengthened, enriched, and evolve into cultural oases in their communities. Mr. Hamlin understood Black theatre is the voice for people of color around the world–echoing the histories and experiences of those past while at the same time educating future generations and inspiring hope.

Mr. Hamlin received theatre training at Brown University under the direction of the late George Houston Bass as a member of Rites and Reason Theatre Company. His business education was earned at Johnson & Wales University. Mr. Hamlin received two personal invitations from former President and Mrs. William Clinton to attend The Recipients of the National Medal of Arts and The Charles Frankel Prize Awards at the White House. He lectured on Black theatre at such prestigious institutions as Yale University School of Drama, University of Connecticut, New York University and Brown University. He also provided artistic and administrative consultation to numerous Black theatre companies and was honored with more than eighty awards and citations for his contributions to the theatrical field. Mr. Hamlin’s acting credits include stage, film, and television work. He is the author of four full-length plays, two info-dramas, and directed more than two hundred productions. 

A native of Reidsville, NC, Mr. Hamlin was born Sept. 25, 1948, and died June 6, 2007, at age 58.