Hip hop with heart

Having a teenager is a humbling experience. Recently I learned of a combined hip hop/theater event being presented by ASU, and I eagerly shared my excitement with my 17-year-old daughter, a high school senior who’ll soon head to college to study theater.

After telling her about the hip hop/theater connection, I got “the look.” And then this quip: “That’s not new, mom.” She even had evidence to support her claim. A master class in Shakespeare and hip hop taken during last year’s thespian festival in Phoenix. The musical “In the Heights” performed at ASU Gammage.

She’s right, of course. And now I seem to find theater and hip hop, or something like it, around every corner. Even on that same day’s episode of “Charlie Rose” on PBS, which featured actor and comedian John Leguizamo talking about his latest one man show titled “Ghetto Klown.”

Were we not traveling to the East Coast for a final college trip this weekend, I might be able to redeem myself by taking Lizabeth to the latest “Performance in the Borderlands” — which merges hip hop, graffiti and theater arts. It features a new play by L.A. artist Rickerby Hinds: “Dreamscape.”

The “Performance in the Borderlands” initiative is “designed to bridge cultural boundaries by offering events featuring artists, critics and scholars who creatively explore the U.S./Mexico Border region.”

Hinds’ latest work “uses a hip-hop beat, dance, drama and poetry to explore the broken life and lost dreams of a young black woman who was shot to death by police while sleeping in her car in Riverside, California.” It’s based on a true story.

“Dreamscape” is suitable for ages 16 and up, according to Megan Todd (she and Mary Stephens put the event together for ASU). Recently I spoke to Todd, who notes that “Hinds is at the forefront of blending the language of hip hop with the theatrical form.”

Todd says Hinds’ work is important and relevant because it “deals with poignant social issues of our time” — including violence and racial injustice. She sees “Dreamscape” a profound way to contrast “youthful presence” with “some of the harsh things going on in the world.”

Having studied feminist theology as a doctoral student, I was eager to ask Todd’s take on the perception that hip hop music is misogynist — promoting hatred of women. Todd notes that there are many forms of hip hop, and that it’s the gangsta rap type of hip hop music that most often offends.

But Hinds’ hip hop, according to Todd, is “more soulful, roots hip hop” that takes the language of hip hop and “makes it grounds for the articulation of social issues.” For Todd, Hinds’ work is all about “finding places to connect and talk in a language that bridges our common humanity.”

ASU is offering several related events this weekend. “Dreamscape” will be performed Sat, April 23 at 7m — at “Phoenix Center for the Arts,” located at Third St. and Moreland Ave., in downtown Phoenix. Tickets are $8 in advance, and $10 at the door.

Phoenix-based artists Tomas Sosa of “Soul Phenomenal” will open the evening performance, and local DJ Alchemy will spin outside of the theater before the event. ASU notes that graffiti artists and dancers will also perform outside, and that a “talkback” with the cast will take place following the play.

You can head to ASU Friday, April 22, from 6-10pm for a free arts experience titled “Civil Disobedience” — taking place at the Galvin Plaza. The featured performance begins at 6:30pm and includes “Third Eye View” from the ASU School of Dance, an excerpt from Hinds’ “Dreamscape” and the Dulce Dance Company.

The event also includes an MC exhibition, a DJ exhibition, a graffiti clinic, a DJ clinic and live graffiti artwork — with a panel discussion to follow. It’s all designed, says Todd, to continue a conversation started when Hinds performed another piece for ASU last year — a conversation that unites diverse people through the common language of hip hop.

If you’ve never considered the power of hip hop music to unite and inspire, this is your chance to see the heart of hip hop in action. “It all comes down to love,” reflects Todd.

Trip your teens out by alerting them to the event, or by going yourself. When they ask for a ride to the mall or the movie theater, just tell them you’ve already made “civil disobedience” plans.

Then pay special attention to those teaching or performing the fine art of graffiti. It’ll come in handy one day when your teens head off to school and you’re ready to reclaim, and redecorate, the nest that they’ve left empty.

— Lynn

Note: The ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts‘ School of Theatre and Film presents a free Rickerby Hinds Colloquium Fri, April 22 from 3-4pm at ASU in Tempe (Location: Music 130).

Coming up: A is for Alaska, B is for Billy Elliot


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