The play, written by Christina Ham, was presented on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2013, to invited guests, including family members of the four girls killed in the infamous 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. The reading was brought to Birmingham by Project1Voice, founded by Birmingham native and New York City-based actor and producer Erich McMillan-McCall.
This reading was the first workshop performance held to determine how the production can best be replicated in other communities. Productions of this play will be performed in Birmingham, New York City and cities across the country on Sept. 15, 2013, the 50th anniversary of the 16th St. Baptist Church bombing. It will be streamed live online around the world.
The play portrays Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins, four girls who are bursting with promise and excitement for the future. They share their hopes and dreams against the backdrop of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement; it all comes crashing down when the girls are killed while preparing for the church’s youth day service.
ArtPlay Teaching Artist Alicia Johnson directed the ensemble, which had just 30 hours of rehearsal time. An invited audience of the girls’ family members and friends, as well as theater performers and presenters, laughed as the characters on stage did what little girls do: dream of cotillions, pretty dresses, going to college and their future careers and families. The audience cried when, after the play, four young women dressed in clothes reminiscent of 1963 sang “You Don’t Know What I Could Have Been,” a UAB Gospel Choir song written by Choir Director Kevin P. Turner. The performers received a standing ovation and an overflowing of praise from the visibly moved audience.
Through this unique project, ArtPlay and Project1Voice provided a significant, unique educational and performance opportunity to young people in the Birmingham community.
“The synergy that began in Birmingham can be emulated in cities all across our nation,” McMillan-McCall said. “Project1Voice will work to emulate Alabama’s example in other states.”
Shannon Thomason, Thomason@uab.edu , is a media specialist in the UAB Office of Media Relations. Her beat covers the arts and events at UAB.