Un raisin au soleil
There is no better example of how the University of Maryland Eastern Shore nurtures and appreciates the performing arts than Starletta Seawell of Philadelphia, Pa.
Better known to stage, film and TV audiences as Starletta DuPois, the 1968 alumna has forged a distinguished career as an award-winning actress who has performed with some of America’s best-known thespians.
While she calls California home, DuPois is a frequent visitor to Princess Anne, where she enjoys engaging students around whom she refers to herself as “Auntie Star” dispensing advice about life.
DuPois considered pursuing a career in medicine and studied nursing briefly before enrolling at Maryland State College, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. Football legend Art Shell is one of her classmates.
Described as having “a flair for the dramatic,” she was a cheerleader, a majorette and a member of the English and Science clubs. It was encouragement from English professor Mary Fair Burk, however, that set DuPois on a path of greasepaint and footlights.
DuPois auditioned for a campus production of the ancient Greek tragedy, “Medea,” and landed the lead role in her collegiate stage debut. The acting bug, as the cliché goes, had bitten her.
Her next stop was New York, where she studied and worked at the New Lafayette Theatre, the New York Shakespeare Festival and the Negro Ensemble Company.
An early role in “Mary Goldstein and the Author” earned her the Audelco Award for Best Actress and established her as a serious entertainer. After moving to the West Coast, she enrolled in U.C.L.A., where she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in theater.
Over the years, DuPois has appeared in such major feature films as “Big Momma’s House” and “Waiting to Exhale.” She co-starred in the Pan African Film Festival’s top-prize winning film, “Ties That Bind.”
Among her TV credits are roles in “Lost,” HBO’s highly praised “Strapped,” “St. Elsewhere,” “Falcon Crest,” “Hill Street Blues” and the daytime soap opera, “One Life to Live.”
She’s acted with James Earl Jones, Robert Duvall, Ruby Dee, Angela Bassett, Denzel Washington, Louis Gossett Jr., Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer.
In the late 1980s, she put her acting career on hold to care for her late father, Raymond Seawell, who was terminally ill. After he died, her energy, talent and perseverance put her back in the public eye.
Her theatrical roots run deep, her resumé notes, with dozens of performances, including the St. Louis Black Repertory Company productions of “Intimate Apparel,” “Before It Hits Home” and August Wilson’s “King Hedley II.”
Wilson’s work, in particular, resonates with DuPois. She’s also appeared in “Fences” and “The Piano Lesson.”
In a 1992 Philadelphia Inquirer interview, DuPois called Wilson an "unbelievable storyteller," whose vision of the black experience in America opened up a window so "now people really want to know who we are."
His plays, she told the newspaper, are “like an orchestration. You have all these instruments, each has its part and each has its collective part. It's music, and if you tune in to the music you can understand the people."
"I'm happy as an artist living in a time where I have a voice like Wilson's to speak through," the newspaper quoted her as saying. "That's exciting. We'll be doing August Wilson plays forever."
She was nominated for a Tony Award in 1978 for her portrayal of Rita in “The Mighty Gents,” and an NAACP Image Award for “Miss Evers Boys and for “A Raisin in the Sun.”
DuPois reprised the role of Ruth Younger from “Raisin” opposite Danny Glover for TV viewers in PBS’ acclaimed American Playhouse series and received an NAACP Image Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama.
She has portrayed all the female roles in “A Raisin in the Sun.” She won the London theater equivalent of Broadway’s Tony Award for “best actress” in 2011 for her portrayal of Lena Younger from the play.
Today, DuPois also embraces another role – that of classroom mentor to aspiring artists. She serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California and occasionally as an “artist-in-residence” at other schools, including her alma mater in the spring of 2012.
During the off-season, she performs her one-woman show, “Order My Steps,” about African-American women who inspire her.
-- BILL ROBINSON