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.”

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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