Dynamic singer Anisha Newbill— also known as the artist called Mama Moon–was requested to portray the incomparable Nina Simone in In Her Words before the script was even finalized. “I knew Anisha professionally and had said to her more than once she reminded me of Nina Simone,” says In Her Words writer and director, Khadijah Ali-Coleman. “When I had to cast the role, she was the first person who came to mind.”
With her feisty persona and fearless stage demeanor, Anisha Newbill comes to the production with a resume that includes singing lead for the rock band Uninterrupted, sharing the stage with the likes of Raheen Devaughn, Fertile Ground, and Saul Williams. A new business owner, she also is the founder and face of Sheama Butters. In the Q & A below, she shares her insights on how she is like Nina Simone, why audiences should see the show and why theatre is important.
Tell us a little bit about who you are as a performer and what led you to Liberated Muse’s production of IN HER WORDS.
If you asked me that question five years ago I would have been able to answer that without hesitation. Right now I think I am re-discovering who I am as a performer. The only answer I can give you that is honest is I don’t know (laughs). And, to me that’s the beauty of it, not knowing what will happen when you touch a mic or sing a song. I’m an honest performer I let everything be what it’s going to be when I do what I am doing. And it’s never the same. As it relates to In Her Words, it chose me. Being pregnant close to delivering with my second child, this role came to me and I hesitated at first only because I was pregnant. But, this was my opportunity to play Nina one of my artistic influences so I went for it and three years later I am still in the role. I honestly can’t see anyone else playing it but me.
Tell us about who you portraying in the production. Are they anything like you?
I am portraying the late great Nina Simone, the outspoken, fearless activist who changed lives with her music. I believe she and I have a lot in common. Our energy is the same– sensual, unapologetic strangely beautiful. Vocally passionate and haunting. We also share the same vulnerability. I, too, am often misunderstood. We are both straight-forward to the point and often times with the delivery of truth there is a lack of compassion. But the heart was in the right place (laughs).
What were some things that you learned while preparing for your role?
I learned what drove her to madness. She sacrificed her life, wealth and family, for her people and revolution and she may have seemed strong but she was fragile and sensitive. And, because she was not cared for during this time and saw no return in love, wealth or trust, her mental state paid the price.
What are some things you would like the audience to learn about these women?
I want the audience to realize the strength these women like Nina had to overcome the hardest of situations through their art and activism. These women were whole. They had husbands, lovers, children and a responsibility to their art and people. So, to diminish them by one song they sang or one situation would be tragic. They are more than a song, or an addict, or a head case, or feminist they are whole women who experienced things in life that would have killed most people in today’s time.
In today’s society of social networking and the entertainment industry our history is being swallowed by corporations and media who don’t feel the importance of educating people on their past. They want to leave the past in the past which irritates me. So I believe it is the responsibility of other art forms such as theatre to educate.
What would you like the audience to know about IN HER WORDS that you didn’t get a chance to tell them?
Come to see it! Once you are there and experiencing it, your mind will began to question things and you will feel the urge to hit Google and YouTube and Amazon to purchase books on these women when you get home. You are going to want to see video on these women, your internal anthropologist will be awakened and you will wish to dig deeper to find out more truths. You will never be the same.
Where can folks learn more about your work and about who you are?
Anisha will be performing this Saturday at the event below, presenting an excerpt from In Her Words as Nina Simone. Buy tickets here.