I Was Once Like You Are Now

I Was Once Like You Are Now

by Patrick Blake

Old? Not a hip hop person?

 

More a theater person than anything else? Converted to hip hop theater by Hamilton?

If you only read one of our blogs this is the one you should read.

I was once like you are now.

I was a producer of the play The Exonerated. It detailed the inadequacies of the criminal justice system. When it closed I wanted to continue to use theater to change society on this issue. Especially the issue of unjust incarceration.

Two things I knew I needed to do.

  • The first was to make it a musical play.
  • The second was to use the music of today, hip hop, as the music. (This was before Hamilton.)

I’m not a rapper, so I knew I’d need to have an MC help me write it. But I’d also need to know more about hip hop.

So I started reading. And reading. About what hip hop is. What follows is a list of books that helped me understand what hip hop is and how it fits with theater.

It is not a complete list of everything I read but it’s a start.

 

The Books

 

Say Word: Voices from Hip Hop Theater, edited by Daniel Banks.

  • A collection of essays by the pioneers of hip hop theater, written by people who were trying to create and define hip hop theater. In the years since some of them have become dated, but you can only know where you’re going unless you know where you have been.

The Rap Year Book by Shea Serrano.

  • This book starts in 1979, and year by year discusses the most important song from that year. Most I had at least heard of, if not actually heard. What is good about this book is that it allows for disagreement. Not everyone agrees on what the “most important” hip hop song of the year is. Those people have their say in this book. It also lead me to listen to the songs.
  • Every single one of the songs of the year has a YouTube video, so I was able to listen to almost forty years of hip hop. It was awesome.

Hip Hop America by Nelson George.

  • I think this is the definitive history of how hip hop came to be, what came before it, and why it came to be.

This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History by Chuck D.

  • You want to know which album came out when? What additional artists were on the record? How it did in the marketplace? You want to learn fun facts from Chuck D’s comments, like “this has the world record for the most curse words in one song”? This book is for you.

The Big Payback by Dan Charnas.

  • This is about the business side of the music and how it’s changed. One of our arguments to hip hop artists is that by supporting hip hop theater, you are helping to create additional revenue streams for yourself. This book gave me the insight to make that argument.

Hamilton Revolution by Jeremy McCarter and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

  • This is a master class on how to write a hip hop musical. Line by line, scene by scene, act by act. If you only read one book on this list, this is the one.

 

Two more books

 

These are not about hip hop, but they are about the social and political conditions that created hip hop. Ideas of the sort of stories that hip hop theater should be presenting. And, they are great reading.

We Were Eight Years In Power by Ta-nehisi Coates.

  • A collection of essays of things that need to have been said.

Once a Cop by Corey Pegues.

  • The life story of one decorated NYC police officer.

 

This is only a partial list

 

I look forward to hearing your suggestions. What should I read? Put your ideas below!

 

As We Start the New Year…

As We Start the New Year…

by Patrick Blake

 

As we start the new year,

 

I want to thank everyone

  • who has donated to the company.
  • who has posted or reposted social media content.
  • who has worked on our shows.
  • who has come to see our shows.

Please keep up the good work.

I want to update you on what I think is the most important thing we have to do going forward this year.

 

What am I going to see this weekend?

 

This is an important question if you are involved in theater and are not currently participating in your own show.

If you live in NYC, or can travel here easily, you can go to a Rhymes Over Beats production. Or if we do not have a production, there are NYC companies that have overlapping missions, and whose work we have seen and admired. National Black Theatre and the Classical Theatre of Harlem are two that come to mind, out of many here in NYC.

But not everyone lives here.

 

Research

 

In order to reach people who don’t live here, one of our goals is to tour our productions around the country.

To do this we want to create a network of similar companies, whose mission is in sync with ours, and are active in places outside NYC that would be receptive to the work we do.

So I began researching which companies have similar missions. I was excited to see how many there were, in how many different cities. The question is, which company should we approach to partner with on projects?

Since we are a community I’m reaching out to you for help.

 

Which companies?

 

Below is a list of six theater companies. Most of them have been around ten, twenty, thirty years. I looked for two companies in each section of the country – east, west, and midwest. I selected them based on what these companies have to say about themselves on their websites. From their information they sound like they would be a good fit with us. My most important goal for the new year is to make connections with each of these companies.

Please let us know if you have a connection with any of these companies, but also and more importantly, let us know if there are other companies we should be reaching out to.

 

Where?

 

Washington DC – Theater Alliance. Their mission is “to develop, produce, and present socially conscious, thought-provoking work that fully engages our community in active dialogue.”

This sounds exactly like us.

Atlanta – Alliance Theatre. A Regional Theater Tony award winner in downtown Atlanta. Their focus seems to be on new plays. They have a competition where the winner is awarded a production.

Kansas City – Kansas City Black Rep. Their mission says in part, “Each production will be tasked to give life to the neglected stories, virtually untold in American theaters”.

This is exactly what we are trying to do.

Minneapolis – Mixed Blood Theatre Company. This company’s predictably unpredictable work addresses injustices, inequities, and cultural collisions, providing a voice for the unheard. Again, just the sort of thing we are trying to do.

Los Angeles – The Robey Theatre Company. The first thing you see when you google them is the simple statement “Celebrating over twenty years of excellence in black theater.” Something we would like to be saying in twenty years.

San Francisco – Lorraine Hansberry. Since she wrote Raisin while living in San Francisco. I had to include this. I’ve also seen some of their productions and was impressed.

If you know anyone at any of these theaters have them contact us. We’d love to work with them.

 

This year’s goal

 

So this is job one for the new year: expand what we are doing to the rest of the country. But we can’t do it without you.

  • Help us make connections with people you know.
  • Bring us your work.
  • Follow us on social media and encourage your friends to do it.

And Donate, Donate, Donate.

This is Who We Are

by Patrick Blake

This is Who We Are

The first four blogs are intended to be informational – to tell you what we are about. What we live, in KRS-One’s way of expressing.

But we don’t just just want to preach. We want to talk about things. Even argue.

So, no more discussion than necessary.

This blog and the ones that will follow are intended to be interactive. All of them pose a question, with our answer. But this only works if you give us your answer to the question. Even if the answer you give us is, “Your question is stupid, you should have asked a different question.”

 

Songs Before the Story

 

Ever since Showboat we have assumed that the songs and the story in a musical are written at the same time. They support each other. That together, they are greater than the sum of the parts.

This is how musicals are usually written, but it’s not always the case. In some cases the songs have already been written and a musical is constructed around them. This is done in one of three ways, depending upon the intent of the person creating the musical.

Let’s look at some popular musicals so I can explain.

Jersey Boys and Beautiful….

To a certain extent,  these musicals have songs that were not written for a specific purpose, like selling a product or telling a story; instead, they reflect what was going on in the song writer’s life at that moment. The songwriter was in a relationship and now is not, so they wrote a song about it. They had just fallen in love, so they wrote a song about it. The songs they wrote were a comment on and a reflection of the songwriter’s life.

So, if someone – a playwright, or a producer, or even the songwriter themselves – wants to make a musical of the songwriter’s life, it makes sense to use the songs the songwriter wrote. While watching the musical, the audience can say, “Oh that’s why they wrote that song.”

A musical of this type allows for a greater appreciation of the songwriter’s life. Jersey Boys is the best and certainly most commercial example of this type of musical.

 

Movin’ Out and Holler If Ya Hear Me

 

But sometimes you want to tell a story that’s original.

You don’t care why the song was written. The song may have been written to celebrate the birth of the songwriter’s first child, but you think it’s a great song about the creative process and would work in a in story about a sculptor. You think that songs written by a specific artist (or artists) would be ideal to tell a story that is unconnected to the reason they were written. In some cases, you only want the lyrics (Holler If Ya Hear Me), not the beats that go with them.

So you create your own story and your own music.

 

Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar

 

Finally, there are artists that have written an album that consists of a group of songs that tell a story. Jesus Christ Superstar was, I think, the first, but Tommy is probably the most famous. They are in effect mini-operas.

A short musical is between eighty and ninety minutes. Broadway musicals are two hours. Tommy (the album) has a running or listening time of seventy-five minutes. Too short to be something to put on stage by itself.

On the other hand, Jesus Christ Superstar, is right around ninety minutes, so it is actually what it claims to be – a rock opera. So the third way to convert songs that have already been written into a musical is to add dialogue to a song cycle.

 

Jukebox, or Boom-Box Musical

 

Musicals that are constructed in one of these three ways are called Jukebox musicals, or, since we are including Holler in the list, perhaps some should be called boom-box musicals.

We are currently talking with Masta Ace about making a musical from one of his early albums.

 

The Question to You is…

 

Really two questions:

  • Which of his albums would you pick?
  • And second, if we were to make a musical from another artists album, who should it be?

Let us hear from you. Leave a comment in the box below.

What Winning Looks Like

What Winning Looks Like

by Patrick Blake

Imagine….

Imagine that we had a time machine and could go into the future forty years from now. (About how long Hip Hop music has been around.)

What would the world of theater look like if what we DO what we want to do?

There will be changes in the kinds of shows that are done. In the people who come to them, and in the people who put them on.

Please forgive the focus on Broadway but, sadly, and just for now, that’s where the money and fame is.

 

Musicals

There are, give or take, forty theaters on Broadway. At this moment, nineteen have musicals in them. One is a hip hop musical. Two others, non hip hop musicals, have majority minority casts.

If what we are trying to make happen does, then ten will have hip hop musicals (counting Hamilton which should still be running). Twelve will have majority minority casts.

 

Plays

Almost ever year there is one new play that is about the minority community. This year’s play is Latin History for Morons. Some years it’s a revival of one of August Wilson’s plays (the ones that are done on Broadway, not Off-Broadway).

Forty years from now, we anticipate that at least half of the plays on Broadway will have been written by the new August Wilsons.

This will happen because of the changes WE are making to who decides what plays are being done – and by doing that, changing who is in the audience.

 

Audience

New York City is one third white, but the Broadway audience is seventy seven percent white. Partly this is due to to the fact that it is sixty three percent tourist. In the future, both numbers will be different.

The reason that there are so few locals is that people who live in NYC have gotten out of the habit of going to the theater.

This is not because of prices. I’ve paid much more for a concert at MSG than I ever paid for Broadway show. Rather, two generations of New Yorkers raised on the music of Blondie and Tupac are not connecting with Andrew Loyd Webber. Hip hop theater will change that.

In 2057, only half the audience will be white. Because fifty percent will be local.

 

Making Theater Happen

Theater is done by the combined, collaborative efforts of many theater artists, technicians and craftspeople. These people learn by doing.

Sometime it’s because they apprentice with a union, sometime because they go to work at an office where the work being done is the kind they want to learn. Sometimes it’s a training program. Regardless of how it happens, the result is a lack of adequate representation of non-white participants.

Rhymes Over Beats’ mission is to create and produce hip hop theater. To fulfill our mission we will need hip hop artists, theater artists, technicians and craftspeople. This will over time change  – because of us.

In the future, the ideal should mirror the population. One third of of NYC is white, so one third of of the general managers, theater marketers, public relations execs, actors, directors, playwrights should be white, instead of the eighty percent it is now. I don’t think that this will happen by 2057, but fifty percent is reasonable.

Now You Know Us

If you read this and the other three blogs, you know why we are doing this, what we are doing to change theater, and how we are going to do it.

Future blogs will be about specific issues. Theater issues. Hip hop issues.

 

Yes, you can help!

Ask yourself if this is what you want. I hope so. We want to change things one person at a time.

We need you. We need your ideas. Your ideas on how to make the change happen. Right now, theater is by wealthy people for wealthy people.

We don’t have to wait for 2057 to change this. We can start now. We can make Theater for the community funded by the community. Now.

Join us. Donate.

How We Do Hip Hop Theater

How We Do Hip Hop Theater

by Patrick Blake

How We Do Things

Rhymes Over Beats Theater Collective is dedicated to creating pieces of theater in NYC and touring them around the country and the world. In this we are like thousands of other theater groups and individuals. But we do things just a little differently. Not just because we use hip hop as the focus of our creative efforts – but also in the way that we are structured, organized and funded. We are the way we are because we are hip hop.

We are a Collective

 First of all, we are not a theater company, we are a theater collective. There’s a big difference. The difference is that when someone belongs to Rhymes Over Beats, they are a member because they want to be. What does being a member mean? It means that they believe in our mission and are willing to work with us to help accomplish it. There is no secret vote. No initiation ceremony. Just as there’s no vote that makes you a hip hop artist! You are one because you say you are one. You demonstrate that to everyone because you do the things a hip hop artist does. A person is a member of Rhymes Over Beats because they act that way – by bringing work for us to do.

  • songs that that can be turned into musicals
  • scripts that can be turned into plays
  • stories that can be developed
  • attending shows that we present
  • participating in the community
  • most importantly, by promoting both their membership in Rhymes Over Beats and what we are doing artistically.

 

Our Collective Includes Producers

We include theater producers in the collective because of our immersion in the hip hop culture. In a traditional theater company, shows are done because one person, called the artistic director, producing director, executive director or some other such title, wants to do that show. This person’s primary function is not producing – typically they’re the creatives. Not suits. No traditional theatre company includes people whose primary interest is producing. Instead, we have the hip hop attitude that producers are an integral part of the creative process. So all of our productions are done by members of the company whose primary interest is producing.

Our Artistic Council

 So how do we decide which shows we do, if there is no artistic director in charge? For the first few years we’ve budgeted two shows a year, one to open in the spring and one in the fall. There are two ways that we select these shows:

  • The first is for a company member to decide that they would like to do a particular show. They become the producer and are assigned a slot.
  • The other way is by the creation of a program to begin in January 2018, open to non-members.

Each year beginning this January we will have an open submission process. Send us your plays and musicals! They will be read by our Artistic Council, and each year one play (or musical) will be selected for development. Our artistic council consists of one member from each of our member categories. (MC, DJ, Playwright, etc), and the development process will be a three year commitment. Our commitment to the selected script will follow this three year path:

  • The first year the piece will be worked on by company members.
  • The second year will be a formal reading.
  • The third year will be a production.

In short, the shows we do will be selected by our community of members.

Our Programs

Producing shows is only one of the things we have planned. We can’t be hip hop if all we do is entertain the community. We need to participate fully in all of its aspects. As a non-profit we want to give back to the community. So far we have:

 

Finally, We are Funded Differently

Typically, theater happens because one wealthy individual gets some of his wealthy friends to pool their money and put up enough to present a show. We call this the “$10,000 from 10 People” model. AKA “Rich People’s Theater.” This is not what we are about. We are hip hop theater. Our audience is not people who can get on a plane and fly to NYC to come to see a show (except if they are a famous rapper). Our shows not for tourists – they’re intended for the people in our own community. For you. Our funding comes from the community. Our goal is having 10,000 people give us $10.