Hip-Hop Theater

(originally posted to the C-Opera listserv)

by Barry Drogin

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Got back last night from a production of Flow co-sponsored by the New York Theatre Workshop and the Hip-Hop Theater Festival. An amazing small-scale eighty-minute non-stop one-man show written and performed by "Will Power" (with assistance from live "musical director" "DJ Reborn" and directed by Danny Hoch), although the singing was pitchless rhythmic speech and the use of rhymed couplets anachronistic to some, I have no qualms in calling it an astounding evening of music-theatre, and the vocal stamina of the performer (who performed a lot of non-stop physical choreography as well) was an amazing part of the "live" theatre experience, earning him a standing ovation. There was some audience participation involving clapping and call-and-response (there was a moment in the story-telling where he told an imaginary dance class to get up and start dancing, and if he hadn't quickly cut off the moment, we might have gotten up from our seats as well), and, near the end, a risky section of unscripted "free-style" rapping.

During the show, he portrays himself, seven other major characters, and a number of minor characters as well, each with distinctive speech patterns, body movements, personalities, accents, poetic structures - a real tour-de-force. Will Power and Danny Hoch have bios listing Edinburgh in Scotland, Battersea in London, Crime Jazz in Rotterdam, Theater Artaud in San Francisco, Phoenix, Tampa Bay, and so on, so I'd keep an open mind if you hear about "Hip-Hop Theater" on tour in your vicinity. Mr. Power's show was not pro-gangsta or homophobic or misogynist - in fact, it was the opposite, two of the major characters he plays are women, one is clearly homosexual, and the message is anti-violent, pro-environment, anti-prejudice, even healthfood-conscious. In the special thanks section of the program, Mr. Power thanks "The Creator of the Universe, all Orishas, my Guides, my Ancestors, and my family."

A small odd-shaped section of the set design incorporated some moments of animation, the record-spinner was visible at all times, and Mr. Power performed most of the piece within a circle of sand, which I didn't realize was sand until the very end (sorry to give that away) - he moves around the stage so much, it is amazing that he managed to keep most of it intact. During quiet sections he didn't appear to be miked, but my wife noticed him wearing something, so there may have been some subtle amplification during the loud sections. The run is until this Sunday, at PS122 in NYC, and I fully recommend it.

Note: As of this writing, Will Power's music does not appear to be available on CD, but you can check out his website, in particular the Press section, for listings of locations and dates of performances of "Flow."

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Last Updated: August 4, 2007