KUAF Arts Beat: When A World Premiere Play Takes on Nina Simone

Oct 26, 2017

American icon of music and Civil Rights, Nina Simone, is the subject of the world premiere play "The Champion" running now through Nov. 5 at Theatre Squared.

"Love me or leave me and let me be lonely," sings a confident, captivating Nina Simone on her singular version of the American standard. The interpretation also captures her lesser known, classical background when halfway through she breaks into a Bach-inspired piano solo.

Simone, the American icon of music and Civil Rights is the subject of the new play "The Champion," running now through Nov. 5 at Theatre Squared. Based on a true story about Simone and her mixed-race band traveling through the segregated South in 1962, "The Champion" was written by Brooklyn-based Amy Evans.

Though it's a play about an icon of music, it's not really about her music, as Evans and Reginald Douglas, director for the Theatre Squared production. 

"[It] isn't about her being a an iconic musician," says Douglas.  "It's about her being a person that's complicated and nuanced and striving for more in her life and that's a human story."

In the early 2000s, Evans conducted extensive research and interviews with people who knew and worked with Nina Simone, including Al Schackman, Bobby Hamilton and Christopher White--the members of her band portrayed in the play. These conversations eventually led to the story told in "The Champion." 

"Part of my task in gathering this information was to look for stories where there were moments of intersection, and also stories that contradicted each other," says Evans. "So the whole play is built around a story, an incident... and it was told to us in very different ways."