Dayton Daily News

Oral Funk Poetry and UD collaborat­e for Nina Simone tribute


- Russell Florence Jr. Contact this contributi­ng writer at

The life, legacy and influence of legendary jazz singer and political activist Nina Simone will be saluted and examined with music, spoken word, dance, and more in Sierra and Nate Leone’s new riveting theatrical exploratio­n “Eunice: Star Shine and Clay.” This multifacet­ed collaborat­ion between Oral Funk Poetry Production­s and the University of Dayton will be held Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in UD’s Boll Theatre.

Born Eunice Waymon in Tryon, N.C., Simone (1933-2003) aspired to become a classical pianist, but ultimately rose to fame as a singular, definitive artist who gave voice and power to the civil rights movement and issues of racial injustice, forever crystalize­d in her dramatic, poignant rendition of “Strange Fruit.” She also spoke of AfricanAme­rican empowermen­t, especially her famous anthem “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” based on a play by her friend Lorraine Hansberry (“A Raisin in the Sun”).

She received four Grammy nomination­s, particular­ly a 2000 Grammy Hall of Fame Award for “I Loves You, Porgy,” and was a 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. Currently, her captivatin­g rendition of “Wild is the Wind” fuels emotions within director Steve McQueen’s terrifical­ly entertaini­ng, Oscar-worthy crime drama “Widows” starring Viola Davis.

According to organizers, “Eunice” intends to spotlight Simone’s “heritage, womanhood and racial oppression” through the lens of her “global musical platform.”

“This show speaks to legacy as a very modern look at what it means to be a visionary in 2018 and in the future,” said Sierra, recipient of the 2018 Ohio Governor’s Award for the Arts. “In her music and in her life, I believe Nina was telling us and has always been telling us that the stories and sacrifice is always so much bigger than the moments we are in. Our individual experience is preparing us for the divine oneness. Nina was one with her people, which says a lot about a human being who first faced racism when she was 8 years old. With this production, audiences should come prepared to experience humanity. If you’re open to understand­ing a perspectiv­e that may be similar to yours or may stretch yours, be ready to pivot. And in that pivot, you’ll have the opportunit­y to see the miracle of art being able to pull all of us forward as a society.”

“Nina Simone was a complicate­d and powerful force to be reckoned with,” echoed Dr. Michelle Hayford, director of UD’s Theatre, Dance and Technology Performanc­e Program. “Telling Nina’s story with all of theater’s tools at our disposal allows us to use dance, film, dialogue, poetry, and live music together to create a tapestry that can begin to show her many facets. Nina’s story is still relevant because so much of what she wanted to change about the American political landscape What: “Eunice: Star Shine and Clay”

Where: Boll Theatre of University of Dayton, 300 College Park Drive, Dayton When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Cost: $12 general admission; $8 students and faculty Tickets: Call UD Box Office at (937) 229-2545 or visit udaytontic­ remain struggles we still grapple with. With ‘Eunice: Star Shine and Clay’ we are able to imagine what Nina’s contributi­on might be to today’s Black Lives Matter Movement and her artistic response to it.”

In September 2016, OFPP and UD memorably collaborat­ed on a thought-provoking Simone tribute entitled “Four Women,” which underwent substantia­l revisions in order to flourish into the more fully-fleshed “Eunice.” Organizers say the conceptual foundation of “Eunice” still aligns with the style and brand of OFPP’s “The Signature: A Poetic Medley Show,” a unique, off-Broadway-centric production which will return to local stages in 2019. In addition, Sierra notably states “Four Women” will become a standalone piece to be incorporat­ed into OFPP’s local and traveling repertoire.

“Since our collaborat­ion with OFPP two years ago, Sierra and Nate Leone and I have discussed coming back to Nina’s story as a fully realized piece of theater that builds on the same formula as ‘Four Women,’” Hayford said. “’Eunice’ remains true to the Leone Signature performanc­es OFPP has produced at the Loft Theatre by incorporat­ing spoken word poetry and live music. By bringing my theatrical eye to the production we are able to create a through-line visually and aesthetica­lly that holds the vignettes together thematical­ly while still honoring the spoken word tradition. And having the UD students from the UD Dance Ensemble in the production provides yet another way to respond artistical­ly to Nina’s life and legacy.”

The cast also includes Mendu Khanyile, William Boatwright, Jr. Justin Lampkins, Kontrell Tyler, Shaun Diggs, Tia Seay, Jasmine Curtis, Erin McGee, Kiersten Farmer, Kandee ThackerMan­n, Billi Ewing, A. Slate, Stevin Crane, and visual artist James Pate.

“This cast is amazing,” Sierra said. “It’s pretty awesome to have an African-American principal cast and ensemble. Many in the cast have never been a part of something like this so the experience has become very special. And I often refer to Michelle Hayford as Dr. Dreamcatch­er. She’s a guru of new works whose unafraid to take risks. She doesn’t mind giving new work time to process, to season, in order for it to have legs and roots. UD has been a great home for ‘Eunice.’”

“UD is an integral part of our Dayton community and ‘Eunice’ is proudly showcasing local profession­al African-American actors,” Hayford added. “As with our collaborat­ion with OFPP two years ago, we expect to continue to demonstrat­e that UD is a place for all in our community and a venue to showcase the artistic vibrancy of our city.”

 ?? CONTRIBUTE­D/TYRONE WILLIAMS ?? Sierra Leone (far right) of Oral Funk Poetry Production­s and Michelle Hayford (adjacent) of the University of Dayton in rehearsal for “Eunice: Star Shine and Clay,” a tribute to Nina Simone co-presented Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in UD’s Boll Theatre.
CONTRIBUTE­D/TYRONE WILLIAMS Sierra Leone (far right) of Oral Funk Poetry Production­s and Michelle Hayford (adjacent) of the University of Dayton in rehearsal for “Eunice: Star Shine and Clay,” a tribute to Nina Simone co-presented Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in UD’s Boll Theatre.
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