Hip Hop doesn’t often make its way into theatrical productions, but HBO Def Jam poet Idris Goodwin is here to change that. The award-winning playwright, educator, author and emcee has penned a series of Hip Hop-inspired plays, beginning with How We Got On: A Break Beat Play.
The play tells the story of Hank, Julian, and Luann, three talented, determined suburban teens coming of age in the ‘80s while dreaming of fame and fortune in the emerging Hip Hop music scene. They must first, however, overcome cultural isolation, familial dysfunction, and ruthless rivalries to make the music that defines their lives. At the same time, a DJ spins their stories with her own meta-theatrical perspective in this modern-day ode to the origins of Hip Hop culture.
“The play is inspired by the innocence of that era,” Goodwin says. “Cats had the rope chains and track suits like the drug dealers, but they were also dancing in the videos and having a good time. It was very youthful and playful. That EPMD song “Please Listen to My Demo” was a big influence—that very earnest wide eyed desire to be heard and the ingenuity required in that analog era. You actually had to really know how to manipulate technology. Now you can make an album on your phone.
Goodwin has always had a foot in theater and in Hip Hop music. He wanted to write about that moment in 1988 when Yo! MTV Raps premiered and how monumental it was for people living outside of New York or Los Angeles.
“How We Got On borrows heavily from Hip Hop theatricality,” he explains. “I get upset when people think Hip Hop is just records and reality shows. It’s performance. It’s live. It’s theater. In How We Got On, the DJ is the narrator. She treats the characters and scenes like they’re records, blending and scratching them. She stops for a few moments and talks to the audience. The characters rhyme a whole lot, too. I wanted it to feel like a show, but not a big pyro technics or Tupac hologram Coachella thing, but a Wednesday night dive bar that’s covered in posters and hello my name is stickers with graff tags on it.”
How We Got On is a healthy dose of what’s to come from the budding playwright. He’s already completed two other productions, The Realness and This Is Modern Art, and has started working on a fourth. The Realness, a Hip Hop love story, premieres March 16. Visit www.mrt.org/show/realness for more information.