What is it? A multimedia show by Marc Bamuthi Joseph. The poet blends music, video footage, and spoken word to chart the development of hip-hop and what it means to his generation. The break/s was a hit at the Humana Festival in Louisville thanks to Joseph's vigorous performance and his infectious fascination for the music he grew up with. His real challenge will be wooing audiences that wouldn't normally listen to hip-hop.
Why see it? Joseph has been described by one critic as "virtuosic," and Smithsonian magazine recently crowned him as one of the nation's leading pacesetters in arts and sciences. Joseph uses his theatrical training and love of hip-hop to make a show that appeals on several levels. A call-and-response aspect means that the audience is actively engaged in the narrative — one that relates to modern life with its incessant flow of sound, imagery, and information.
Who should go? The hip-hop generation, but this should be a remarkable experience for anyone interested in multimedia theater, dance, and spoken word.
SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA • $32 • 1 hour • May 29 at 8 p.m.; May 31 at 12 and 7 p.m. • Emmett Robinson Theatre, Simons Center for the Arts, 54 St. Philip St. • (843) 579-3100
The Message: Marc Bamuthi Joseph can't stop won't stop
The delicate line between hip-hop and spoken word is shattered in the break/s, Marc Bamuthi Joseph's acclaimed multimedia show.
The New York native uses music, dance, poetry, and documentary-style video footage to explore his lifelong fascination with hip-hop culture.
Joseph has performed on Broadway (including the Tony Award-winning The Tap Dance Kid). He's been a leading lyricist on HBO's Def Poetry. It was his passion for hip-hop that led to the break/s.
"I'm a child of hip-hop. The specific code switching, the history, the call-and-response, and the multicultural aspects are all welcoming to an audience. They feel like the strength of the piece."
Inspired by Jeff Chang's hip-hop history Can't Stop Won't Stop, the break/s, directed by Michael John Garcés, traces the music's legacy, deconstructs its lyrics, and makes room for Joseph's personal take on the genre's mighty impact.
"It runs through the culture with its bells, whistles, and clashes of beats," Joseph says. "It's as much a celebration as anything. I examine the culture in a multimedia way that's compelling and provocative."
The strength of the piece's total design is how integrated the works are.
"The designers have made a beautifully immersive environment on stage," Joseph says. "But the narrative is the most prominent part, and the energy of the piece drives it more than technology."
That energy is man-made, with Joseph flinging and twisting his body around the stage to create visuals that are just as effective as his words. He examines the meaning behind "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash and recalls his early memories of his favorite music, piling on anecdotes, analyses, and pop culture post-mortems, mixing them to create something new.
"I'm among the pioneers of this form of theater," Joseph says.
The form has grown in popularity. The Hip-Hop Theater Festival in New York City was established in 2000 and is spreading to cities like Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Chicago. By breaching the "fourth wall," he's created a production he describes as "very human."
"I want to activate inquisitiveness about how theater is made," he says. "That would be the optimum response I'm looking for. I've failed if the audience isn't intellectually or emotionally moved."