Fusing Genres with Will Power


Author: Alison Kjeldgaard

Last Friday, Feb. 5, Oxy hosted the mixed media performance, “Words, Rhymes, and Drama: an Evening of Hip Hop Theatre,” in Thorne Hall, featuring award-winning actor, rapper and playwright, Will Power. DJ Reborn, a Chicago native who has opened for bands like The Roots and India Arie, added to Power’s performance with her blend of soul, hip-hop and reggae beats.

One of the main reasons behind bringing Will Power to Oxy is to mark the beginning of Black History Month. Much of the performance centered on racial tension and inequality, intermixed with humorous overtones.

Black Student Alliance president Olympia Powell (sophomore) helped to bring him to Oxy.

“I liked how he brought in stereotypes, and tried to make humor out of it,” Powell said. “He brought silent voices back to life.”

However, as Power said in an interview after the performance, “I think my performance is connected with [Black History Month], but it goes beyond that.”

Power’s unique mixture of different styles and media went beyond social criticism. The performance began with a hip-hop-dance-theater mix, in which Power portrayed three characters living in the same neighborhood. Each character told a different story in hip-hop style rhymes, ranging from light-hearted to serious. The characters similarly varied; Power changed from acting like an old man, to a strict dance instructor, to a young girl who liked to freestyle. Power kept rhythm by dancing, making his own vocal beats, and through DJ Reborn’s music.

“I thought the characters were really good,” Jacob Berry (sophomore) said. “I liked how he included musicality with his storytelling.”

The rest of the hour-long performance featured Power’s adaptation of the Greek tragedy, Seven Against Thebes. The play told the story of Oedipus, and the curse that he casts upon his two sons. Re-titled “The Seven,” Power re-scripted several scenes from the original play with hip-hop rhythms and rhymes. A twist occurred when Power referred to the death of the Sphinx as the end of the Sphinx Recession.

“Old stories are so much richer,” Power said. “Sometimes they’re perfect. I take the essence of the story and flip it – bring it to new terms. Greek playwrights were doing the same thing.”

Indeed, though the words of the play were changed, the original message remained, reminding the audience of its relevance today. Power asked the audience, “Do we have the power to break the curse on our nation?”

Power expressed hope for the future, explaining that by 2023, the population is predicted to no longer have a dominant ethnic group. Hopefully, he said, “in 15 to 20 years, there won’t be a need for Black History Month,” since the population will be more balanced culturally, ethnically and academically.

The rest of the hour-long performance featured Power’s original hip-hop songs, “My Grandma’s Feet,” and “My Mama.” After the performance, Oxy students milled around the lobby discussing the show.

Isaac Hale (sophomore) has an academic focus in theater. One of Hale’s favorite plays is The Seven of Thebes, so he appreciated the originality and melding of music and theater. He saw a hip-hop epic in Berkeley; however, one of the main differences between the epic and Power’s performance was that the epic had a full cast. He was impressed by Power’s singular energy on-stage.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Hale said. “It’s really original.”

Thorne and Keck Hall house manager Cara Pardo (sophomore) talked about the two-hour workshop that Power hosted during theater professor Alan Freidman’s Acting 1 class. The students learned the art of freestyling by making a circle and choosing a sound.

“Once you let go, it’s easier than you think,” Pardo said.Power knows first-hand about how long it takes to develop a personal style, having started freestyling when he was ten years old. His characters are all based on real people, but his characters become works of art in themselves as they take on theatrical, musical and rhythmic techniques. Power said, “The character ceases to be a real person.”

Power stuck around Oxy on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, teaching two four-hour long workshops about freestyling and performance.

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