Howard Quincy Bunch was minding his own business, running an errand at the office-supply store.
Or was he? Minding his own business, that is.
A local actor/poet/singer craving creative challenge, Bunch spotted playwright Fred Taylor, head of C-Town Performing Arts, nearby. "I was being nosy," admits Bunch with a sheepish, I-didn't-mean-any-harm-by-it laugh. "He was making copies of scripts, and I noticed he was from C-Town Performing Arts. I told him I did an independent film for a friend and that I did some singing, too."
Timing is everything. Taylor needed to cast someone -- and quickly -- as Stevie Wonder. And Bunch "kind of reminded me of Stevie Wonder," Taylor says.
A few days later, Bunch was singing the sweet strains of "My Cherie Amour" for Taylor -- and landing a part in The 7th Example. The morality play, which focuses on "the leader within" while addressing the ills of drugs and alcohol, will run this weekend at the Cleveland Play House. Bunch also will sing Wonder's "Ribbons in the Sky," "Knock Me off My Feet," and "Fingertips (Part 2)."
A product of the creative energies of Taylor and choreographer Sabrina C. Gregory, The 7th Example is a mystical journey highlighting well-known and historical figures such as Wonder, Billie Holiday, Harriet Tubman, Jackie Wilson, Hannibal, Moses, Cleopatra, and Nat Turner -- and the young heroine who comes in contact with them.
"It takes place in a historical museum, where ghosts and spirits of past leaders come to life through song and dance," says Taylor, who wrote and directed the project. A security guard takes a young girl through the first six "examples" -- African, Egyptian, Slavery, Jazz, Motown, and Classical exhibits -- to show her inspirational moments in history.
In the end, the girl learns that she is "The 7th Example."
"So many times we have placed leaders on high pedestals," says Taylor. "It's important that we are all leaders."
Gregory and the ROBLU (Revelations of Benevolence Linking the Universe) American Dance Theatre sprinkle contemporary dance sequences throughout the performance. In addition to Bunch, the cast includes David Wynne (Jackie Wilson, Nat Turner), Beverly Williams (Cleopatra), Mariah Daniels (Harriet Tubman), Tina Tompkins (Billie Holiday), Jimmy Lee Williams (Hannibal), and Taylor (Langston Hughes).
Playing roles -- onstage or off -- comes easily to Bunch.
"You give me the part, I'll fill it," says the 24-year-old Warrensville Heights resident. Musical and writing endeavors supplement his job as mail sorter/package distributor/dock worker at the main branch of the Cleveland Post Office. He's shopped around his self-published The Lightside: The Motion of Poetry on his own. Now, with the help of Morrison Publishing Co., the book will be in stores "hopefully by the end of the year," he says. A licensed hairdresser, he also does 'dos on the side.
Bunch says he'll play his role as the early-teens Stevie: no dreadlocks, but cool shades and a stylin' cap.
More than style, though, Bunch's life makes him a natural for The 7th Example.
"When I was 17, I went to jail for five months for aggravated burglary. I was looking at 8 to 25 years. I prayed every single day, "God, I'll never do anything bad again. Just get me outta here.'"
When the charges were reduced to burglary, his five-year probation was also reduced. Bunch studied musical and video production at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and credits schooling -- along with inspiration provided by the Bible, his mother, and his five-year-old son, Quincy -- for turning his life around.
"I tell kids how I used to be, how I am now, and what I'm doing positive for my life. My poems are 90 percent gospel, but all have positive messages. The other 10 percent are about everyday living, accomplishing your goals and dreams." -- Jeff Woodard
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