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'Black Nativity Durham' tells story of the birth of Jesus with an African twist

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Triangle Performance Ensemble’s annual production of "Black Nativity Durham" will be presented virtually beginning Friday, December 18 until December 31. Photo courtesy of Emmanuel Tabb.

Christmas is not canceled, and neither is Triangle Performance Ensemble’s annual production of "Black Nativity Durham."

"Black Nativity Durham" is a “soulful, gospel, celebration about the birth of Jesus Christ,” according to the show's press release. "Black Nativity" was originally written by Langston Hughes and adapted by Wendell Tabb, who directs and co-produces the show, along with Xavier Cason. 

“Our adaptation features a cast of over 100 of some of the area’s most talented singers, dancers, actors and musicians, all coming together on one stage to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ,” Tabb said. 

The performance is in its 14th year and will be presented virtually beginning Friday, Dec. 18 until Dec. 31. Tickets can be purchased online from $10 to $15. 

Emmanuel Tabb, public relations and marketing representative for "Black Nativity Durham," said the show is a two-hour telling of the birth of the Christmas story. 

Tiffany Agerston, vocal director for "Black Nativity Durham," described the first act of the show as the story of the birth of Jesus with an African twist. 

“There is always an African dance to celebrate him and his naming, and there’s also the intertwining of gospel for the audience to hear,” Agerston said. 

Agerston, who has been with the show for all 14 years of its run, said the second act takes place in a church in the present day. 

“Act two is always where we take them to church, we have the set up for church and we do gospel songs and we remind people about the reason for the season,” Agerston said. 

Tabb said the main difference between "Black Nativity Durham" and the original production by Langston Hughes is the music.

“The music of 'Black Nativity Durham' is more modern and contemporary, I would say African American spirituals mixed with contemporary African American gospel music, and Langston Hughes’ version was more poetry with a mix of African American spirituals,” Tabb said. 

Agerston said Hughes’ original production allows for producers to have creative freedom, so while the show keeps many aspects the same, it also adds its own elements.

“We keep those things that are significant to his writing, but a lot of the show is unique in how we do song selections, costumes, imagery and oftentimes original music as well,” Agerston said. 

Agerston added that Cason wrote most of the music for the production, and some songs change from year to year — so the show is never the same. 

She said this year, the virtual production was prerecorded and edited in a manner similar to a holiday special, with editors taking scenes from past performances and weaving them together. 

Agerston said one of her favorite things about the show is the connection audiences feel to the Christmas story. 

“It's exciting, it's emotional at times because often we connect with the birth of Jesus and it feels like he’s right there, they can expect to go back in time and connect with the gospel,” she said. 

Tabb said the passion and connection of the cast members is apparent to audiences, even in a virtual format. 

“Expect a very moving and powerful performance from the cast and crew,” Tabb said. “And you can definitely see the hard work that they put in and the camaraderie and relationships they have built together.”


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