Kent directs ‘Approaching Simone’

by Cherryl F. Cercado
Editorial Assistant

It is described by Jane Dibbell, associate professor of theatre arts and producer of “Approaching Simone,” as provoking. Its director, Steve Kent, part-time professor of theatre arts, calls the play “emotional, funny and gripping,” while Stacey Williams, a junior who has the role of Josephine Baker, declares it to be “extraordinary.”

“Approaching Simone,” written by Megan Terry in 1976, is based on the life of Simone Weil, a working philosopher and activist who died by voluntary starvation at the age of 34. The part of Simone will be played by four different actresses to emphasize the different stages of her life.

According to Dibbell, the play is “A stimulus to examining political commitment and spiritual journey.”

Kent has been waiting to direct the play for about 20 years and claims that the time to do it is now. He has decided to direct it as a musical with the help of Dr. Reed Gratz, professor of music, who composed the music.

“I’ve been Approaching Simone’ for a long time. It was prickly and it wasn’t easy and remains so now,” said Kent.

Dr. Gratz, who worked with Kent on the Dailey Theatre production of “White People” in 1992, has composed 15 original pieces for “Approaching Simone,” ranging from abstract to gospel tunes.

“There are many different styles of music,” said Dr. Gratz. “There’s gospel, blues, samba, tango and a contemporary New York style jazz. It went very well and I’m pleased and very proud. It’ll be interesting to see the finished product.”

Kent told Dr. Gratz what he had in mind as far as the music was concerned. “He came back with a brilliant score,”said Kent. “It was way beyond my expectations.”

Kent cites several reasons for choosing to work on “Approaching Simone,” including his desire to place emphasis on women protagonists in theatre and to share the writing of Terry because he believes that “she is not getting her due as a writer in theater.

“It encompasses a period of history that most college students are blissfully unaware of, such as World War II and the Russian Revolution,” said Kent.

According to Kent, “Approaching Simone” is rarely staged because the cost to produce it is expensive. “The University has resources to put on a production such as this,” said Kent. “We built our own sets and we have students acting in it for free.”

Williams is more than happy to gain the experience and not the money. “It is a test of everything, as an actor, I have learned,” she said. “It has increased my awareness of the world, social issues especially regarding war and human behavior.”

Kent promises that before each performance the audience will be wildly entertained and will have a good time. After each performance of “Approaching Simone,” the audience will be invited to stay for a discussion with Kent and the cast.

“Approaching Simone” will run May 9-11, 16 and 17 at 7:30 p.m. and on May 12 at 2:30 p.m.

General admission is $8 and $6 for students and senior citizens.

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