POSTED ON FEBRUARY 29, 2012:
Urban Language and Sound Supreme
Ebonics and noise-makers show off a fresh era of theatrics
One might expect a night of theater to be a snobby group of upper crust, trust fund brats, bedecked in finery fit for a king, sauntering out of expensive automobiles with trophy wives and girlfriends, or boyfriends, plastic as the American Express cards they use to pay the bar tab at intermission. These are the ladies who lunch, marry to playboys turned oil tycoons, mess around with the pool boy on the side, and act out their favorite, old, stale, "Housewives of Tulsa" routine.
Not so with the latest installment in the American Theatre Company's (ATC) second spring show, The Bomb-itty of Errors. This is a rap-adaptation of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors retold with an urban flair. Written by Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, GQ, and Erik Weiner, this side step from the usual musical theater installment is directed by ATC Board Members Jeremy Stevens and Robert Walters.
The story begins with MC Egeon and his wife Betty as they wrestle with the blessing of quadruplets -- two sets of identical twins. As economic misfortune riddles the family, the children are given up for adoption. One set gets sent to a lavish life while the other set is raised in Syracuse, unaware of the existence of their identical twins. A vagabond group of characters join the plotline, from a wacky cop, to a Rastafarian herbal doctor, to a Sports Nun.
So, why Bomb-itty of Errors?
"Well, first off, it's Shakespeare, but done a different way. It was important for us to do something innovative and new to think outside of the box, and bring something like that to the audiences of Tulsa, because it's never been done before," said Jeremy Stevens, ATC board member.
Staging the Bard's highbrow comedy in Syracuse sounds like a tall order, and is certainly not without challenges.
Old School Rap.
"Feeling the beat: knowing that Shakespeare is a lyrical writer, knowing that the language that he uses is very lyrical, but using that 'hip-hop' language, and rap to convey that particular message that Shakespeare was going for with a particular beat -- either implied or physical -- but it is actually there. That's the hardest part: to feel where that emphasis should lie on those important words," Stevens said.
Joining the cast, fresh from an acclaimed performance with Theatre Pops, Jeremy Geiger weighs in on what adults and children can expect from the performance.
"I am expecting them to love every second of this production. I think they will find it invigorating, and contemporary, off-the-wall, maybe even inspiring, and fun. That's probably the main thing I want to portray is: how much fun Shakespeare can be."
Geiger isn't all formality, as he explains his favorite character and lines of the play, "MC Hendleberg: he's a fellow of the Jewish persuasion. He's got some mad rhymes! I love it that he says 'Shalomie to my Homies!'"
Along with a run of evening shows and Sunday matinees, ATC is staging several daytime matinees and inviting local students from area schools.
"I want them to see that Shakespeare and theater is for everyone, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, etc. It should be an enjoyable experience and they have the power of making it an enjoyable experience, as long as they let themselves become part of the production. Its more about bringing that young audience onto the stage and they get invigorated by the performance, and possibly inspired to pursue either acting as a vocation or avocation," Stevens said.
Rachel Bachman is a newcomer to the ATC family. She shares her feelings on the use of beat boxing and which character she enjoys most in the show.
"I say it evokes feelings of sheer panic and disorder because I have never had to beat-box before! I'm really in love with The Abbess. She's pretty funny. I like it when she walks out of the church and says: 'It's 8 o'clock! Time to blow friendly bubbles!'"
Alexander Walters, who was in ATC's 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, expounds upon the use of Ebonics in the show, "It almost reinvents the Elizabethan language, in a fun and exciting way, while paying homage to '90s hip-hop. I think the Ebonics is just so craftily and creatively interwoven into the dialogue, so it plays to audience members of both ends of the spectrum."
American Theatre Company's The Bombi-itty of Errors descends upon the Williams Theatre March 2-10. Evening performances begin at 8pm, with Sunday matinees at 2pm. Tickets are $24-$30, with discounts for groups, and can be purchased by calling 918-596-7111. Daytime performances for schools can also be scheduled by calling the PAC Ticket Line.
Make a Joyful Noise!
"The toughest part about performing in Stomp is using very unconventional instruments and props and getting eight performers to sound like one group playing together. All the props we use are real and heavy and can be awkward to work with. Sometimes we get injured from our own music," Ivan Delaforce, a 16 year veteran with Stomp, said in an email interview.
"I have been interested in drumming since the age of 3... I grew up in Hawaii and played in several cover bands in the club scene there. I was in New York when Stomp had their first auditions for the American tours in 1995. It was during training that I realized Stomp is a very physical show and my background in sports was very helpful," Delaforce said.
Stomp is hard to explain in just words. It's one of those explosive shows that has to be experienced to be appreciated. The energy level and talent are always off the charts, and quite often, literally, bouncing off the walls.
Take it to the Mat.
"My favorite piece in Stomp at the moment is a number called 'Pipes.' We use radiator hoses that are cut to a certain pitch and make a beautiful melodic song when we hit them on the stage. My favorite instrument in the show is the broom. It has at least three or four different sounds and you can make great shapes with it since the show is also very visual," Delafoce said.
Andres Fernandez, rehearsal director for this year's new and improved show, has been with Stomp for 14 years.
"My first priority for the show is making sure that we are playing the music together. It may sound easier than it looks, but we are not trained in playing a broom, pole, or our bodies -- there isn't a class for that in school," Fernandez said.
The diversity of the cast, talent level, and instruments make for great theater, but a tough rehearsal process.
"We are all from different backgrounds, I'm a singer/dancer, most of the guys are drummers, and the women have dancing backgrounds. So getting them all to create one song with a broom or pole can be difficult. That's why we practice a lot. My second priority is to make sure the cast and I are representing the show in the Creators visions. There are eight performers on stage and each of which have boundaries that they have to stay within as a performer. Not all of the performers on stage can be the leader or the funny guy. As the director, which I have been before for the San Francisco cast back in 2000, I want to bring the rawness back to Stomp. Through the years Stomp has evolved into a flashy, see how fast we can play the music kind of show, but I'm bringing back that funky raw edge to the show with your occasional comedic bits, which is never going to go away," Fernandez said.
Several additions to this version of the show include suspension, the use of paint cans and "donuts" aka: tire tractor inner tubes, and bringing back an old number called "Basketball."
Celebrity Attractions presents Stomp March 6-11 at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. Tickets are available by calling the PAC Ticket Line at 918-596-7109, or by visiting celebrityattractions.com.
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