After seeing Nina – a story about me and Nina Simone a few weeks ago, I knew I needed more than that. I had questions, doubts and thoughts about the play. So, I went to Call and Response – a reaction to Nina at the Unity Theatre to watch Raven Maguire, Alice Proctor and Rachel Creamer, and Aleasha Chaunté respond autonomously to Nina – a story about me and Nina Simone. It’s a lot more interactive this time compared to the ground breaking play as it allows the audience to take part in a short discussion question and answer session with the performers.
The performance kicked off with Rio Matchett (assistant director of Nina – a story about me and Nina Simone) welcoming the audience and introducing the nature of the performance and the performers.
Raven walked in and as she is best known for her passion for rhymes, she directed her words and rhymed her way into exploring the idea of slavery and how we are, in a way, still slaves of the mind. She expresses herself eloquently and with much gusto before the lights grew dim and a video played with a picture of Nina Simone layered with scenes of serenity. She questions how long the media will keep us living in fear with stories of war and distraught when we can focus on the good, the positive side of society and celebrate the achievements we have today. She capped this all off with her singing Feeling Good before breaking out in a dance which looked as if she’s really breaking out and finally achieved freedom.
Rachel and Alice came into the spotlight and it seemed as if they were the comedic relief for the tension of the show. Playful banter and arguments passed between them as they try to come up with the correct way of showing the audience what they really thought of the show. As Alice tries to be more professional with their collected response, Rachel goes off and tries to loosen the atmosphere and questions why Alice is trying so hard to be so professional. The duo leaves the stage after agreeing that no amount of words or collected survey can really capture what they truly felt while watching the show and I have to say, that was my initial reaction to it too.
A video of Nina Simone commenting on the duty of an artist to reflect on the situations that are happening in present day opened the stage for Aleasha. Following that, Lee Atwater’s voice echoed in the theatre as he explains the ‘Southern strategy’ back in 1981. Vintage clips from America showcasing eras of the Great Depression along with racial segregation is then played, with emphasis on certain areas concerning the Black people. As this plays out, Aleasha is singing Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood. She doesn’t say a word throughout this and explained later that this was due to the fact that she wanted to leave the audience to make their own deductions. Which I thought was highly fascinating and totally simple performance.
I had not realised the whole time that I was seated next to Jair-Rohm Parker Wells (the bassist in Nina – a story about me and Nina Simone!) until the very end where the artists were engaging with the audience for a discussion (and I was honestly star-struck!). He revealed a number of things which was surprising during the discussion and pulled me back into the whole situation and have me re-evaluate what I originally thought of the play combined with what these artists have revealed.
The performance is laid back and semi-casual. If anything, it is more of a way for the audience to sit down and listen to the artists and engaging with them in your own thoughts and feelings towards the show. It’s a good follow-up for those who have seen Nina – a story about me and Nina Simone to really compress and finalise thoughts and to share possible similar thoughts with the artists and the rest of the audience on the night.
Call & Response is ran from 28th October to the 29th October 2016 at the Unity Theatre.
Photo Credit: Unity Theatre, Riksteatern