Monday, December 30, 2013

Hip-Hop Theatre Comes to Studio SCR

The Shooting of Tyisha Miller
Tyisha Miller
On Dec. 28, 1998, Tyisha Miller, a 19-year-old African American woman from  Riverside, California was killed by police officers when she was shot 12 times. Miller had been unconscious and locked in her car when she began shaking bodily and foaming at the mouth with a pistol on her lap. Four police officers arrived at the scene with guns drawn and, after unsuccessfully attempting to get a response from Miller, they made a forced entry into her car. In their attempt to remove the gun, Miller is said to have sat up and grabbed the weapon. The officers then opened fire 23 times, hitting her with 12 bullets, including four in the head.

The shooting of Tyisha Miller caused outrage in the Riverside community and led to demonstrations, protests and claims of police racism. In 1999, the courts ruled that the four police officers involved in the shooting "made an error of judgment, but had committed no crime." This resulted in hundreds protesting against the decision, resulting in the arrests of 46 protesters, including Rev. Al Sharpton.
Rickerby Hinds’ Dreamscape re-imagines the real-life shooting of Tyisha Miller thorough the powerful lens of hip-hop theatre. Hinds wrote the play, which was previously sampled in Studio SCR’s SCRamble, and is directing Dreamscape as it opens the 2014 Studio SCR season, Jan. 16-19. He recently talked about how he developed the work.

What made you want to tell this story?
I wrote Dreamscape out of a sense of obligation more than anything. Although I was intimately aware of the shooting and subsequent activities surrounding it--community forums, demonstrations, trials--I was reluctant to tell the story in spite of the apparent need to address the ongoing tenuous relationship between the African-American community and the police. It wasn't until 2005, seven years after the shooting, that I completed Dreamscape.

Rhaechyl Walker in Dreamscape
Why do you feel hip hop was the most effective way to tell this story?
Dreamscape was initially conceived as a solo performance for a dancer (who could act) with DJ accompaniment. But, as I wrote and re-wrote the play, I found that the interaction between the DJ as the antagonist with Myeisha’s protagonist presented me with a more compelling and dramatic performance. After several readings and performances with the DJ, it was suggested that I try a beatboxer in that role. So when I finally directed Dreamscape myself, I chose to use a beatboxer and discovered that the power of the play increased exponentially.

I chose spoken word/poetry because I wanted to bring beauty through language to a situation that was so horrific. My desire for beauty out of tragedy was also the reason why I chose to include dance to the degree that I did. The other thing that dance brought to Dreamscape was the ability to have the audience focus on the body of the protagonist in a way that words could not--to take the body apart and put it back together again solely through movement.

What has been your creative process with this work?
John "Faahz" Merchant in Dreamscape
The research provided me with so much information that, in some ways, it felt like the play was writing itself. Using the coroner’s report describing the damage caused by each of the 12 bullets that hit Tyisha Miller, the 911 call made by her cousin after finding her passed out in the car, as well as the testimony of one of the officers involved in the shooting provided a compelling framework for the development of the rest of the narrative. The next part of the process was to answer the question, “If I was a 19-year old black girl being shot to death, what thoughts might pop in my mind?” and the answer became the moments in the life of Myeisha that we witness on stage.

After writing the script, my process as director has been to let the actors bring their foundation talents (beatboxing, acting, dancing) and to build the performance based on what they bring to the table, understanding the different approach I should take when working with a beatboxer who acts versus an actor who beatboxes.

Why do you think this story will resonate with audiences?
I think the story will resonate with audiences because of the significance of the theme being explored, as well as the theatrical way in which such a difficult topic is explored.

What do you want people to come away with having experienced this story?
A compelling theatrical experience.

What is Hip-Hop Theatre?

By combining two art forms — centuries-old theatre and contemporary Hip-Hop — hip-hop theatre brings a new dynamic to modern theatre. Hip Hop came to life in the 1970s and is an art form filled with a multitude of cultures, genres and sub-genres. Composed and characterized by four elements — rapping, DJing, breaking and graffti art — hip-hop encompasses the arts from music to visual to dance. When joined together, Hip-Hop Theatre makes use of one or more hip-hop elements with a strong focus on the language and cultural relevance of the theatrical piece. Going beyond placing rap or breaking on a theatre’s stage, hip-hop theatre blends the two, using hip-hop elements to present culturally relevant stories to audiences in new thought provoking ways.

Many involved in hip-hop theatre have different definitions for it. Danny Hoch, founder of the Hip-Hop Theatre Festival, defines the art like this: “Hip-hop theatre must fit into the realm of theatrical performance, and it must be by, about and for the hip-hop generation, participants in hip-hop culture, or both.” Rickerby Hinds, who wrote and directed Studio SCR’s first 2013-14 production Dreamscape, helped introduce the world to hip-hop theatre in its early years through his play Daze To Come. Other hip-hop theatre works include, Jails, Hospitals and Hip-Hop, So! What Happens Now? and How to Break. Supporters of hip-hop theatre seek to have it recognized as a legitimate art form and continue to encourage regional theatres to present their works. With hip-hop theatre groups forming across the country and the annual Hip-Hop Theatre Festival, this form of theatre will only continue to evolve and make its mark in mainstream culture.

The Four Hip-Hop Elements

– also known as turntablism, is the manipulation of sound and music through vinyl turntable systems and a DJ mixer. When the role of DJs phased out of as a major part of hip-hop groups during the 1990s, turntablism became a new sub-culture with the primary focus on the DJ and their manipulation of sound and music creation.

Breaking – also known as break dance and b-boying, breaking began in New York City during the 1970s. Due to popularity in media, breaking is now widespread across the world in countries including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan and South Korea.

Rap – also known as MCing, rhyming and rap music, rap focuses on the flow and delivery of rhyming lyrics. Different from spoken word poetry, rapping is performed in time to a beat and can be accompanied by or without music. Through diction, literary techniques and rhyme, rapping falls somewhere between poetry, singing, and prose.

Graffiti Art – often associated with vandalism, graffiti art can be used to present commentary on modern issues ranging from racism, politics and gender issues. The 1983 graffiti art documentary, Style Wars, helped to link graffiti art to hip-hop by featuring break dance crews and rap music in the film. Even in today’s commercialization of graffiti art, many graffiti artists choose to remain anonymous for a variety of reasons.

Dreamscape will be performed as a part of Studio SCR, Jan. 16-19, 2014. Get your tickets here.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations, Rickerby! Waiting for the DVD; would have enjoyed seeing your photo along with this interview :)