For some of us (OK, me), our first exposure to the theatrical world was when our girlfriend took us to a college production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. We tried to get into its musical antics and pervasive use of “jazz hands,” but the cartoonish, slapstick action, almost-witty dialogue and trite storyline put us to sleep. And we snore. And our girlfriend was very disappointed in our lack of cultural appreciation.
If only our introduction had been something akin to UCR’s two-week-long Califest Hip-Hop Theatre Festival—then we might’ve come away with a different idea of theatre as a medium to express ideas.
The fest features elements of hip-hop blended with established styles of theater to seek non-traditional ways of storytelling. Professor Rickerby Hinds, who created the Califest seven years ago, has been in the hip-hop theater game since 1989 when he wrote Daze to Come, which employed conventional stage methods, but used hip-hop in ways that became central to the storytelling. It helped expose the emerging genre to a wider audience.
But the genre isn’t Hinds’ creation. He describes it as organically cropping up in various urban pockets around the country, with fests in New York, Washington D.C., Chicago and San Fransisco. He’s had other esteemed hip-hop theater pioneers, like Will Power, at past festivals.
“Hip-hop theater sprang up when you had people trying to tell stories that weren’t on the radio,” Hinds says. “A lot of us are part of that first generation of hip-hop heads who want to tell stories beyond the scope of hip-hop, but by incorporating all that stuff from our youth.”
This year’s fest includes hip-hop theater workshops, spoken word performances, exhibitions of Hinds’ own work in the genre, and a night of hip-hop acts featuring L.A.-based Emanon and the live band-backed Fresh City. The show will also include such seminal IE talents as Triune, Addicus Brown and Spontaneous.
The piece Hinds is presenting for this year’s fest, Dreamscape, is based on the notorious 1998 killing of Tyisha Miller by the Riverside Police Department. An actress portrays Miller, and a DJ who personifies different characters interacts with her using a turntable to push the story along.
Although this theater movement has been evolving since the late ‘80s, the community is still relatively small, but Hinds is optimistic about the genre’s staying power. “Hip-hop theater is going to continue to evolve as hip-hop heads get older and seek an alternative means of storytelling,”
The Califest Hip-Hop Theatre Festival ’07, University Of Riverside, 900 University Ave., Riverside, (951) 827-4331; www.events.ucr.edu. Thurs., March 8-10 & 16-17. Most events start at 8 p.m. See separate calendar listings for times and event descriptions.