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Posts Tagged Nina Simone

What’s Missing?

In an interview with Park Square Theatre, feature writer Matt DiCintio asked Christina Ham, the playwright of Nina Simone: Four Women, “Many audience members, especially younger generations, may not be aware of the role musicians like Simone played in the Civil Rights Movement. Why do you feel it’s important that we don’t forget them?”

Regina Marie Williams as Nina Simone (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Regina Marie Williams as Nina Simone
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

As part of her reply, Christina stated, “Until 1970, Ms. Simone’s music was such a substantial part of the movement, but after this she was basically pushed into relative obscurity. Books on the Civil Rights Movement don’t even index her or discuss how critical she was to the movement.”

In conversations with audience members who had seen Nina Simone for the first time either last or this season, I often found some to have come expecting lighter fare–namely, a replica of a nightclub act of favorite standards. Instead, they were surprised by the intensity of a production that digs deep into themes of racism, colorism, feminism and activism. The play ultimately leaves a strong impression and makes a powerful impact on its audiences by transcending the standard narratives and perspectives of mainstream history to create a more nuanced and complete truth.

In her interview with DiCintio, Christina also remarked how “this play shines a light on the black women who were and were not musicians during this movement who were often marginalized and forced into the background–even though we were the backbone of the movement.”

How would we see each other differently if credit were more often given where credit was due? For instance, what if the contributions of these and other women in black history had been made prominent? How would society evolve if more points of view do not get submerged, lost, hidden or erased?

This year alone, we have most starkly needed to rethink history in light of the revelation that brilliant black women working at NASA were also instrumental in launching astronaut John Glenn into space. The old narrative of the Space Race may have stayed intact if not for authors Margot Lee Shetterly, who wrote Hidden Figures, and Duchess Harris and Sue Bradford Edwards, who wrote Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA.

Revealing obscured or missing history has the power to create change. It changes how we see each other and how we see ourselves. It can prevent entrenchment in singular points of view and narrow ways of thinking or even cause a change of heart.

One thing is for certain. After seeing Nina Simone, you won’t come out thinking about the Civil Rights Movement in quite the same way as before.

 

Nina Simone: Four Women on the Boss Thrust Stage until March 5

 

Jamil Jude, Artist Plus

Since December 2015, Jamil Jude has served as Park Square Theatre’s Artistic Programming Associate. As such, he is mentored by Artistic Director Richard Cook through the Leadership U[niversity] – One-on-One Program to foster the professional development of early-career, rising leaders of theatre. Jamil was only one of six exceptionally talented applicants awarded such a mentorship by Theatre Communications Group, the national organization formed to strengthen, nurture and promote professional nonprofit American theatre.

Jamil Jude with Alix Kendall on The BUZZ - Fox 9 to promote Nina Simone: Four Women at Park Square Theatre until March 5 (photo by Connie Shaver)

Jamil Jude with Alix Kendall on The BUZZ – Fox 9 to promote Nina Simone: Four Women at Park Square Theatre through March 5th
(photo by Connie Shaver)

While Jamil may be most visible to our audiences as the facilitator for post-show discussions, such as the upcoming Sunday, February 19, Musings for Nina Simone: Four Women or most recently as a promoter of Nina on Fox 9 with Alix Kendall, his work at Park Square, Jamil explained, “is really focused on advancing our broader inclusivity goals.”

“Richard began the work by expanding Park Square’s repertoire–the stories we tell and the artists who tell them,” Jamil elaborated. “I’ve been lucky enough to assist in that effort, retooling our process of identifying plays and artists, introducing new systems meant to streamline our production process and being another set of artistic eyes as plays move towards the stage. It’s amazing to witness a theatre like Park Square in this part of its growth.”

Over 40 years later, Park Square Theatre remains a work in progress, an organization in dynamic change to, as Jamil describes, “develop a deeper understanding of its place in the community and how to respond to the needs, wants and aesthetic desires of said community. To play a small part in that is a humbling experience.”

Jamil Jude, "Artist Plus" (photo by Farrington Llewellyn)

Jamil Jude, “Artist Plus”
(photo by Farrington Llewellyn)

Work in progress is also an apt description for Jamil Jude himself. He, too, continually  examines his purpose and relevance as an artist. Self-defined as an “Artist Plus,” he works as a freelance director, producer, playwright, dramaturg, speaker or whatever role needed to pursue an artistic vision. That vision is, more often than not, in service to social justice. He has, in fact, more specifically described himself as a “social justice based art maker dedicated to building communities, bringing new communities to the arts and to using the arts as a means to eliminate artificial barriers that society imposes.”

Besides Park Square Theatre, Jamil has been involved in various ways with other theatre organizations throughout the Twin Cities, including Mixed Blood Theatre Company, Children’s Theatre Company, Guthrie Theater, Daleko Arts, Theatre in the Round, Minnesota Fringe Festival and more. He is also a co-producer of The New Griots Festival, dedicated to promoting the work of the next generation of Twin Cities black artists across disciplines (visual, performing, literary, etc.).

Also fitting is that Jamil recently directed Baltimore is Burning, a new play about the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. It was the inaugural production for the promising new theatre company Underdog Theatre, which “creates art for the underserved, underrepresented, and unheard,” and satisfyingly garnered good reviews. Kory LaQuess Pullam, who has graced Park Square’s stages, is its playwright and the founding artistic director of Underdog.

Darrick Mosley, Kevin West and Peter Thomson in The Highwaymen, directed by Jamil Jude (photo by Scott Pakudaitis)

Darrick Mosley, Kevin West and Peter Thomson in The Highwaymen, directed by Jamil Jude
(photo by Scott Pakudaitis)

Dear to Jamil’s heart is his latest project, directing The Highwaymen, a new play based on research that Jamil and playwright Josh Wilder did on the destruction of St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood in the 1960s to make way for I-94. The demolition of that thriving, predominantly black community echoed similar occurrences throughout the nation to make way for progress on the backs of people of color. Josh dedicated The Highwaymen, which runs through February 26 at the History Theatre in St. Paul, to “the memories we step on and the lives we drive over.”

In November 2015, Jamil was listed in American Theatre, a publication and theatre communications group, as one of “Six Theatre Workers You Should Know.” Whether as part of Park Square Theatre, someone else’s team or working solo, he’ll ever strive to bring us socially relevant theatre to spark constructive community interactions and inspire social change. Whatever Jamil touches, you can just feel them coming: those positive vibrations.

 

“Four Women” by Nina Simone

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Written by Nina Simone, “Four Women” was released in 1966 on her album Wild is the Wind. The song has four verses to describe four African American women with different backgrounds and personalities.

In the play Nina Simone: Four Women by Christina Ham, which had its world premiere at Park Square Theatre last season to sold out crowds, the four women are played by Aimee K. Bryant as Sarah, Jamila Anderson as Saffronia, Traci Allen Shannon as Sweet Thing and Regina Williams as Nina Simone/Peaches. Don’t miss their powerful performance of “Four Women” and other Simone classics!  Don’t miss it this year, The run has just been extended through Sunday, March 5!

My skin is black
My arms are long
My hair is woolly
My back is strong
Strong enough to take the pain
inflicted again and again
What do they call me
My name is AUNT SARAH
My name is Aunt Sarah

My skin is yellow
My hair is long
Between two worlds
I do belong
My father was rich and white
He forced my mother late one night
What do they call me
My name is SAFFRONIA
My name is Saffronia

My skin is tan
My hair is fine
My hips invite you
my mouth like wine
Whose little girl am I?
Anyone who has money to buy
What do they call me
My name is SWEET THING
My name is Sweet Thing

My skin is brown
my manner is tough
I’ll kill the first mother I see
my life has been too rough
I’m awfully bitter these days
because my parents were slaves
What do they call me
My name is PEACHES

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Back by popular demand, with added music!

I Didn’t Know That!

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry is playing on Park Square Theatre’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage from October 28 to November 20. Here are some Raisin-related facts that you may not have known:

 

A Raisin in the Sun was originally titled A Crystal Stair, an allusion to a line in the poem “Mother to Son,” when Lorraine Hansberry began writing the play in 1957.

Producers Philip Rose and David Cogan took over a year to raise enough money from 150 investors to mount the original run of A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway in 1959.

Columbia Pictures had hired Lorraine Hansberry to write the screenplay for A Raisin in the Sun. Hansberry ended up writing two screenplays, only to have both rejected as being too controversial by studio executives.

The completed film version of A Raisin in the Sun, which was released in 1961, had cut out over a third of Hansberry’s original screenplay as well as downplayed the Youngers’ poor living conditions. Hansberry’s opening with Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem” superimposed over a montage of scenes in Southside Chicago’s ghetto was one of those cuts; and his poem, in fact, appears nowhere in the film.

Lorraine Hansberry was the godmother to Nina Simone’s daughter Lisa.

The FBI kept a file on Lorraine Hansberry due to her social activism.

A Raisin in the Sun inspired a musical, Raisin, in 1973. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical.

Greta Oglesby, who will play Mama (Lena Younger) in Park Square Theatre’s production, was the understudy for Phylicia Rashad as Mama when A Raisin in the Sun was revived on Broadway in 2004. It was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play.

Director Warren C. Bowles considered actor Theo Langason for both the roles of George Murchison and Joseph Asagai–a wealthy young black man and a poor Nigerian college student, respectively–who want to marry Beneatha Younger (Mama’s daughter). Langason was ultimately cast as Asagai.

 

oglesby-greta-2016-bw          langason-theo-2015

Greta Oglesby and Theo Langason

 

Sources:

http://www.enotes.com/topics/raisin-in-the-sun/themes

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorraine_Hansberry

http://dx.dol.org/10.1080/0033563042000206790

http://parksquaretheatre.org/wp-content/uploads/Raisin-in-the-Sun-Study-Guide-10-9.pdf

Park Square at the Ivey’s

Here we are, a week later and the 2016 Ivey Awards are already in our rear-view mirror as we hurtle down the highway towards a new and promising season of theatre in the Twin Cities. Park Square certainly has a full lineup including The Liar, The Realistic Joneses, A House on Mango Street, A Raisin in the Sun and The Soul of Gershwin. Who knows if those or any other Park Square shows will be featured at the ceremony next year. All we can talk about for now are the ones we had the pleasure to see from last year’s remarkable season.

Everyone's favorite blogger (on the right).

David Beukema (left) and some blogger (right).

It started with me taking my seat at the beautiful State Theatre in Minneapolis and pulling out my phone to make sure I had everything ready for the tweets to come. I assured those around me that my texting was for the greater good and I was 100% paying attention to the entertainment on stage (those friends, by the way, were the Girl Friday Productions gang whose play, Idiot’s Delights, will be taking over the Boss Stage next summer!).

The evening’s entertainment started off with a bang, with Regina Marie Williams and Mark Benninghofen hosting the show. Benninghofen was in Shooting Star at Park Square in 2015; and Williams, most recently as Nina Simone in the eponymous smash hit. The house rocked later on when Williams, Thomasina Petrus and Aimee K. Bryant came out and performed a number from the show.

Hosts Mark Beninghofen and Regina Marie Williams. Photo credit: Ivey Awards

Hosts Mark Beninghofen and Regina Marie Williams.       Photo credit: Ivey Awards

While all of those performances serve to break up the flow of acceptance speeches, occasionally it seems to work the other way around. One of the best was from Park Square veteran Warren C. Bowles, who won an Ivey Award for his direction of The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife at Minnesota Jewish Theatre (hooray St. Paul!), who was so shocked he was begging the band for his cue-to-exit music.

My personal favorite moment of the night, however, was costume designer Trevor Bowen accepting his award for emerging artist. Having met Trevor in the halls of Park Square (where he designed the costumes for My Children! My Africa! and Nina Simone: Four Women), I can attest to the bright warming light of human being that he is. He had me cracking up through misty eyes as he could barely get through his speech, overcome with emotion on several occasions.

Example of Bowen's costumes in My Children! My Africa! featuring Ivey Recipient Warren C. Bowles.

Example of Bowen’s costumes in My Children! My Africa! featuring Ivey Award recipient Warren C. Bowles (left).   Photo credit: Petronella J. Ytsma

Bowen’s speech was definitely a highlight of a night where everyone deserved their spot in the sun. While Park Square itself wasn’t specifically recognized for any one thing, it was clear that the theatre has a far-reaching influence on the Cities. Even the co-writers of the ceremony, Shanan Custer and Zach Curtis, are frequent performers at Park Square and can currently be seen in The Liar. That to me is just as consequential as any trophy and echoes the spirit of the Ivey Awards. No nominees, no categories, no egos; just a gathering of friends and collaborators to celebrate the miracle of live theatre, because when you consider what it really takes to produce such art… whew, you wouldn’t believe it!

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Well, Park Square and its patrons believe it and we’re all looking forward to a brand new season and getting dressed up for next year’s theatre prom.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Mann!

Richard Mann at Nina Simone

One of the many great moments of Nina Simone: Four Women has to be the appearance of Richard Mann and his family when they came to celebrate his 102 birthday! If you missed this special night you can read about man, the myth, the legend here.

 

Mann, What a Life

This month will mark not only the opening of Park Square’s much anticipated, Nina Simone: Four Women, but also the looooong anticipated birthday celebration of Richard Mann, a 102 year old St. Paul resident. What do the two have in common, you ask? Maybe more than you think. We’ll get to that soon but first we’ll just start by saying that Park Square is honored to be having Mr. Mann and his family attend Nina on March 12th to celebrate his big 1-0-2.

Born in St. Paul in 1914, Mr. Mann has lived his entire life in either St. Paul or Minneapolis, with his family moving back and forth between the two cities throughout his adolescence. He was only 11 when his father died. He went to work, instilling in himself a strong sense of self-determination and activity. In the late 1940s he went into the nightclub business, opening the Treasure Inn in Roseville that became a popular spot for the black community and college students. Prince Rogers, father of… well, Prince, was one famous artist to play there. Needing to support a family of his own, however, led him to change course and in 1953, he started working at the Post Office where he stayed for 30 years.

Mr. Mann’s greatest contribution to the Twin Cities, though, would have to be his community activism. He was a Boy Scout as a kid and then grew up to be president of the Sterling Club, a charitable organization that works with other groups to provide beneficial activities and programs to the African American community. To honor his 90th birthday, the Richard Morris Mann scholarship was established to benefit graduating African American high school seniors attending college.

Even after all that, Mr. Mann continues to make a name for himself and proving his vitality by becoming a recent internet hit when a video of him shoveling a neighbor’s sidewalk went viral this winter. Bound and determined to live an active lifestyle, he continues to shovel walks and loves playing golf.  Surely this must be a “key” to living such a long life. Although, I would add that having such a large family helps. When the Mann family sees Nina on the 12th, there will be no less than 16 representatives in the seats! That’s like, a whole section of the Boss Stage house! So if you can’t get a ticket you know who to thank.
Nah, I’m sure you’ll be fine, and what a performance to see if you really want one of those “special times in the theatre.” Not only will you be basking in the inspiration of Nina Simone’s music but you can look over at Richard Mann, sure to be tapping his foot and smiling, and soak up his own unbridled inspiration.

Also, go ahead and watch him shovel snow. It’s the best.

 

 

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