Detroit playwright selected from thousands for Atlanta Festival
Among the 40 plays performed in four days at the Atlanta Black Theatre Festival, will be one straight from Detroit. “Urban Wine,” by writer Eunice McGill, also known as “Starchild,” will take the stage Oct. 3 at Porter Sanford III Performing Arts Center in Atlanta. The two-year-old festival strives to, “retrieve and preserve the depth of the black experience, to promote literacy and interest in the arts in the next generation, and to cultivate and encourage diversity in all theatre across the Diaspora,” according to their Web site. Thousands of submissions came from across the globe, — as far away as South Africa, India and Sweden — but only 40 were chosen. Although this is Star’s first play, she has really honed her craft. She has been working on “Urban Wine” for 10 years. “It required a lot of research and a lot of growing as a person,” she said.
Based on real life events that took place in Southwest Detroit, “Urban Wine” is a story of a man’s journey through the prison system to God, Star says. “It is a story of atonement and romance.” After serving several years of a life sentence for murder, the main character, Kato Bell, receives a letter from a childhood friend working on a story of the genocide of incarcerated young Black men. Their correspondence heats up and Bell falls in love.
Star began work on “Urban Wine” after making a pact with a friend to “use her talents as a writer to make a difference in the world and her community.” She was inspired to write her own imprisoned friend. A trip to see Detroit-native Dorothy Redmond’s play, “Mahogany Dreams,” encouraged her to use theater as the format. Asked if it was challenging to use an unfamiliar format, Star said it came naturally. “I went with my gut, with my imagination. I heard the characters speaking,” she told the Michigan Citizen. “Urban Wine” debuted at the Redford Theater on March 16.
The 11-member cast will all travel to Georgia together to perform in the festival.Devin Laster, who plays Kato Bell, has been acting for over a decade in theater and film, including a stint with the Negro Ensemble Company (NEC), a traveling company in New York. The NEC propelled Denzel Washington, Laurence Fishburne, Samuel L. Jackson and Phylicia Rashad to stardom. Laster says the complex changing emotions of his character are as rich as any classic role in the theater. Laster got a taste of Bell’s volatile inner world, as he investigated the character with whom he has nothing in common in his own life.
Bringing “Urban Wine” to life required the small ensemble to wear many hats. Cameron Cullers not only plays the role of Freedom, he is also one of the show’s producers. Between rehearsals, Michael Jai White’s former body double is also responsible for coordinating travel arrangements, rehearsals, and information. Describing the difference between stage and screen, Cullers says theater is “more live — more cut-throat. You either have it or you don’t. There’s no second takes. When you hit the stage you get so much energy from the audience. It is a perfect conversation with the audience, as you tell a story through action.” There’s “crazy” chemistry between the cast members, he says. “We’re all one big family.”
On Sept. 27, the “Urban Wine” team will host a fundraiser at the Rhyme and Reason Cafe (9226 Kercheval) in Detroit, beginning at 6 p.m. Admission is $15. Cast members will perform the scene, “Life is a Game of Chess,” from “Urban Wine,” in addition to poetry. Actor/producer/musician Cameron Cullers will also play live jazz music. To donate or get more information on Urban Wine, call Star at 313.957.9754 or email her: strchldproductions @yahoo.com.