Just the mention of Shakespeare may unearth some cringe-worthy high school memories for some of you; whether it’s falling flat on your face after trying to pull off a line from Romeo and Juliet with the girl you were courting, or trying to remember half of the wtf*ckery that went on with Hamlet and his ghosts. Ye olde English wasn’t exactly the easiest thing to understand, much less internalize, so it’s no wonder most of us left Shakespeare to gather dust in storage along with the rest of our textbooks.
Quite obviously, there’s a reason why Shakespeare has been so highly acclaimed not just for past generations but for ours as well. Imagine writing a play some three centuries ago and have it stay relevant to this very day - that’s talent on a whole other level. While people nowadays leave Shakespeare to bookworms and critics, his contemporaries actually considered him pedestrian, that his work was irrelevant because it was written in what was then called slang. Sound familiar? That’s probably because a majority of people now look at rap and hip hop in the exact same way. And no, we aren't talking modern-day radio's hip hop whose choice topics consist of women and their body parts, alcohol, and cars. We're talking the kind of hip hop true to its roots in the street, with verses that were honest about things that mattered to the rappers and artists. (Not hating or anything, Party Rock Anthem should just be left in the clubs for party rocking.)
(Party rock in the one of the Metro's 12 favorite music bars.)
Hip hop Shakespeare’s aim is to break the common misconceptions about the two. If you think about it, they’re both forms of poetry that are accessible and relatable to the educated as well as to the masses. The question therefore is of contemporaneity; can an open interpretation of Shakespeare’s work translate to today’s audiences? If it’s through a medium like hip hop, which appeals to almost all people’s sense of musicality and taps into raw emotion, it’s a sure bet. It’s no wonder people from every background and age bracket came out to participate in the workshop.
Walking into the third floor of the PETA Theater to a room full of students was never stranger. The group was in the middle of one of Akala’s stage exercises, reminiscent of the game “Story”.
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They were going around the circle talking about what their lola bought at the store, with each individual adding one more thing to the growing list, the strangest of which was a tie between a monkey-eating eagle and a pimple-pricker. The ridiculousness of it all was to put them at ease as well as to showcase their memory and creativity. And indeed, for a group that only just met, they filled up the room with laughter and camaraderie, a testament to how shared passions can bring people together.
Also, stage exercises along those lines prepared Akala’s class to take on scenes from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in itself rife with subject matter to inspire at least a few other stories, poems or plays, and under his guidance and tutelage they performed in the same show as him at the PETA Theater.
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Akala and PETA proved that two completely different things - hip hop and Shakespeare - can go surprisingly well together, complimenting each other to produce remarkable results. Like bacon and peanut butter, Keds and tube socks... and, you know, other stuff.
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