Oral Funk Poetry and UD collaborate for Nina Simone tribute
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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 udaytonticket.com 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.”
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.