Chicago Hip Hop Theater Festival 2016


Chicago Hip Hop Theater Fest’s Presenter Spotlight: Natalie Cook

Headshot(NatalieCook)             CHHTF front

From emails to short minute calls to set up the interview, I knew that when I finally get to meet Natalie she would be a sweet person who is just as enthralled in Hip Hop culture just like I am. Natalie  who is a writer, performance artist, and community organizer will be performing at this year’s Chicago Hip Hop Theater Festival this summer on Saturday June 18,2015 to showcase her piece with her crew called Manikin.

 Me:  Tell me about the your ensemble and the root of the name that you will be presenting at the Chicago Hip Hop Theatre Fest this summer?

Natalie:  “MANIKIN” is an interdisciplinary production that spans through various eras to explore gender relations between Black men and Black women living in the United States. The play’s objective is to transform the stage into a mirror for the audience. “MANIKIN” convicts the people who take part in the experience of its production, compelling audience members to digest the hard truths of American history and its ties to current events. The white normative gaze is the primary outlook in which all Americans are afforded to look through. “MANIKIN” provides the stage for Black people to take agency over their narrative as well as their art.

Me: How did u get started in Hip Hop Theater? Where has your inspiration as an artist been honed?

Natalie: I got started doing Hip Hop Theater in high school. I attended a performing arts school, DeKalb School of the Arts, where I majored in creative writing. Spoken word poetry was not included in the curriculum, which I never understood. Spoken word is the balance between creative writing and theater, and since spoken word is the root of hip hop, it is inevitably Hip Hop Theater. Spoken word wasn’t valued as a true art form by a lot of my classmates and teachers, but that didn’t stop me from committing to it. I performed ALL the time. I snuck into every adult open mic in Atlanta. I created collaborative pieces with the organization that I led, Def Poets Society, and we performed in the school talent show and Fringe Festival every year. I competed in Brave New Voices and soon after, became the coach for Team Atlanta (Atlanta Word Works), in which Hip Hop Theater is a primary focus. Upon graduating from DSA, I began attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I was a member of First Wave, the only collegiate, hip-hop theatre ensemble and learning community of its kind in the country. Through First Wave, I had the opportunity to work collaboratively with other artists, create a one-woman show, and write and direct “MANIKIN”. Hip Hop Theater is an integral and central part of my life.

Me: KL will be kicking off our 20th year birthday celebration with this festival, part of the mission is to support our formula for theater meaning presenting it when and where on our terms, deciding who writes, acts in and attends the shows. How do you feel like your piece contributes to their mission?

Natalie: When I was writing “MANIKIN”, I knew that I wanted to write a piece that gave Black people agency over our narrative. It was very important to me that I wrote a play comprised of an all-Black cast with a Black director facilitating the movement and content. It was also imperative that “MANIKIN” was written by a Black person. Black people have constantly had our histories, stories, and identities stolen from us, and told for us. I wrote “MANIKIN” to reclaim our power and our truths. The primary objective of “MANIKIN” is to spark conversations between Black men and Black women. Most times, we just talk about each other, and “MANIKIN” serves to help us to talk to each other.

Me:  KL will be kicking off our 20th year birthday celebration with this festival, part of the mission is to support our formula for theater meaning presenting it when and where on our terms, deciding who writes, acts in and attends the shows. How do you feel like your piece contributes to their mission?

Natalie: Art is in everything I do and everything I am. I read a quote by Julia Cameron that said, “Creating is the best gift we can give back to the Creator.” I am obligated to use the gifts that God blessed me with, and I express those gifts through art. Expressing truth is art. By being honest with myself and with others, I am opening the spiritual door that allows me to be honest in my writing. Art is at the core of my life life because it is through this expression that I am able to learn healing. Writing reveals how you feel without you having to think about what you’re writing. I create a mirror each time I write. Art commands you to be accountable. Art encourages you to be vulnerable. Art challenges you to think from a new perspective. Art unites strangers. I have learned the power of art because I embrace that is an extension of God.

Me: Do you feel comfortable being identified as a Hip Hop Theater artist? why why not…what if anything has the genre/the practice contributed to you personally and artistically?

Natalie: I definitely think it’s cool to be identified as a Hip Hop Theater artist. I personally just like saying I’m an artist so that people don’t have any preconceived notions of what my art may be like. But it’s most definitely an honor to be considered a Hip Hop Theater artist because the genre is incredibly innovative and full of life. Hip Hop Theater has contributed to my life, personally and artistically, in tremendous ways. If it weren’t for my experiences as a spoken word artist and being a member of First Wave, I wouldn’t be the artist and person that I am today. Hip Hop Theater has truly strengthened and broadened my artistic talents and personal view of the world. Spoken word, emceeing, breakdancing, DJing, graffiti, theater, community… Hip Hop Theater is a kaleidoscope of revolution.

Me: This is the first official CHHTF, presented by the KL founders, Jaquanda & Jacinda,what do you think is the significance of you being selected as a presenter at this years CHHTF?

Natalie:  Kuumba Lynxx is an organization that I deeply admire and respect. Jaquanda and Jacinda have built and cultivated a great community that truly empowers young people to be activists as well as artists. I am honored to be a presenter at the first official CHHTF, because I value the work that these two women do in their community, and it humbles me to know that they also value my work. I am so grateful that “MANIKIN” will be performed in Chicago, and I thank Jaquanda and Jacinda for allowing myself and the cast of “MANIKIN” to be a part of this event.

Reading her emails and looking at this interview as if it was in person, I could tell that Natalie was committed to Hip Hop and using spoken word as an art, even when teachers and her fellow peers didn’t even see it as art. She allowed writing and poetry to transcend through her life and let her always put paper to pen and speaking it to the universe; whether it’s in an open mic or at this Summer’s Chicago Hip Hop Theater Fest; her words and her art will hit the ears and the hearts of many who need that boost to keep going or to just try.

Peace.

Chicago Hip Hop Theater Fest’s Presenter Spotlight: Darius Parker

darius new   CHHTF front

As I started my call to Darius Parker a Kuumba Lynx alum who is an African American Scholar, actor, dancer, slam poet, singer, activist and the essence of Kuumba’s “We Get Free” mantra. I was excited to do this interview with him. Darius and other Kuumba alumnus will be performing at the Chicago Hip Hop Theater Festival this summer on Friday June 16th with their piece titled “After Midnight” which explores the black mind seen through him and the other alumnus. As I called Darius I had no idea that a twenty minute interview would turn into how important this is for not only him to be performing but what has led up to this in his career and keeping Kuumba Lynx always in his heart.

 

Me: Tell me about the your ensemble and the root of the name that you will be presenting at the Chicago Hip Hop Theatre Festival this summer?

Darius:  So my ensemble includes myself and current Kuumba Lynx alumni, we decided upon the name “After Midnight” in connection to our blackness in the deepest of night and the stories that we share and the commonalities we share and the differences. It’s a view of the world where we are living in right now. We feel like this is the perfect time to tackle these issues and how we are dealing with them personally and nationally and why we care.

Me: How did u get started in Hip Hop Theater? Where has your inspiration as an artist been honed? 

Darius: I joined Kuumba Lynx October 2, 2006; it was my sixteenth birthday. Myself and my cousin auditioned together and initially we didn’t want to join because we just wanted to dance and they were political. Then we were like we are going to get paid to dance, “sign us up.” We went and we auditioned and we got in and that was the best decision I have ever made. It definitely opened my eyes to myself to the world to my peers and to transitioning from being a participant to being an artist mentor and taking into consideration that art can change lives depending on how much love and care you give to a performance piece and the message you give to it. My inspiration stems from the youth especially from Kuumba Lynx because they have a high level of writing and performance and Jacinda and Jaquanda has elevated what it means to be a slam poet and listening to the writing that they give. It inspires me to think like a Kuumba Lynx member and what would Kuumba Lynx want me to and handle situations. 

Me: KL will be kicking off their 20th year birthday celebration with this festival, part of the mission is to support our formula for theater meaning presenting it when and where on our terms, deciding who writes, acts in and attends the shows. How do you feel like your piece contributes to their mission?

Darius: I feel my piece contributes to the mission because it speaks to the journey I had before, during, and after Kuumba Lynx. But there’s no after Kuumba Lynx once your in it; your in it for life. It definitely speaks to me learning and growing through art and through movement within social justice and Hip Hop but also what Hip Hop Theater means for myself and for my community and what it means for art period. I feel like “After Midnight” entails all the disciplines and take y’all on a journey that makes you think who you are and what s your place in this world it puts yourself in reflection. 

Me: When you think about the discourse of the day/ the way art is so central to the current movement, where does your work fit? does it fit?

Darius: It just seems like racism popped up in our face again whether we like it or not, and with the piece “After Midnight” we are definitely tackling that and the essence of Black Lives Matter and that we have to let you know endlessly why this matters. The thing that sets us apart from the other presenters is that we have lived this type of art, theater life for this long and coupling it together as one will be the difference. I’m appreciative but I hate that we have to talk about Black Lives Matter because we shouldn’t; it should already be known, but to the fact that it is; we are going to keep fighting and keep pushing the youth to not have to deal with this. 

Me: Do you feel comfortable being identified as a Hip Hop Theater artist? why why not…what if anything has the genre/the practice contributed to you personally and artistically?

Darius: Yeah, growing up in Kuumba Lynx took a big chunk of my life. Nine years of my life has been invested in Jacinda and Jaquanda. I was unaware of the world going on, I knew I liked to dance and write; but having them see something in me and seeing that they can grow this young man into something; I’m so appreciative. They’ve invested so much time in me that i will fight and work for this organization until I die. I have to do this because if I am able to see myself in a student I can help you and push you. I just want to give that same love and mentorship to the upcoming youth and I’m looking to build the next one. 

Me: This is the first official CHHTF, presented by the KL founders, Jaquanda & Jacinda, What do you think is the significance of you being selected as a presenter at this years CHHTF?

Darius: The significance of me being a presenter cultivates my growth as a human and the different teachings that Jacinda and Jaquanda have instilled in me. Without this organization I wouldn’t be able to do that. Here we have Darius Parker from Uptown, somebody who had no idea what it meant to be an activist, or what social justice or what Hip Hop Theater meant. But to stand on this platform and be a presenter is mind blowing. It’s my time and for me to capitalize and give it everything I got. I just want to make my mentees and my mentors proud and give it all I got. 

 

As we wrapped up this interview, we shed tears and connected to something that wasn’t supposed to have meaning but it did for us and ultimately who we could be with a help and love from an organization that pushes the youth to be them and be endlessly free when they discover their arts. It’s about a lifeline that never ends because there’s an entire family that is waiting and supporting you always. This summer on Friday June 16th you can see “After Midnight” come to life with Darius Parker and the other Kuumba alumnus as they hit the stage at the 1st Chicago Hip Hop Theater Festival presented by Jacinda and Jaquanda. Come for an experience, come to reflect, but most importantly come to a space that encapsulates the words and any definitions of Love and Family.

Peace.

 

 

Chicago Hip Hop Theater Fest’s Presenter Spotlight: Paula “LaLa” Bolander

      LaLa Good            CHHTF front

Doing an interview every two weeks with talented people to showcase their talents and others in their cast makes my heart swell in anticpation and finally seeing the faces move off a page and in person to see them perform. The love of Hip Hop transcends through every person and I was happy to get the pleasure to have my heart filled a little more by interviewing Paula “LaLa” Bolander. LaLa is one of the co-directors of the Chicago Hip Hop Theater Fest and a presenter in the show. From her doing dancing to spoken word to teaching the youth to love Hip Hop and make it there own, this interview gave another reason why Hip Hop is important and why the Chicago Hip Hop Theater Fest premiering this summer is something you do not want to miss out on.

Ajee: Tell me about the your ensemble and the root of the name about the artistic work you will present at the Chicago Hip Hop Theatre Fest this summer?  Whats the significance of the title of your work?

LaLa: The CORE ensemble is a beautiful mix of dancers from many different genres and skill sets. We are a mix of youth and adult artists working together to build a story that can capture all types of audiences. When I first reached out to Maddog as a collaborator and co-director, I was unaware of the amount of talent our cast would have. I am delighted to share that the cast continues to come correct each week at rehearsals they are dedicating their time and energy to the production, and also assuming leadership roles within the different layers of choreography.

We first applied to present in CHHTF because Maddog and I are familiar with each other’s strengths, and we recognized that combining our art and ideas on this platform would be explosive.

the significance of the title of our work- CORE – is that we are asking the cast, collaborators, and audience members to reconnect to their core, the core of the universe, and the core values of footwork.

Ajee: How did you get started in Hip Hop Theater and where has your inspiration as an artist been honed? 

LaLa: I first started exploring Hip Hop Theatre as a youth participant of the Kuumba Lynx Performance Ensemble circa 2008. Before then, most of my theatre and performance art experience was in circus and dance. Joining Kuumba Lynx allowed me access and exposure to spaces where artistic excellence was a baseline- which meant I had to take myself seriously as a creator in order for everyone else to follow suit. I originally joined Kuumba Lynx as a dancer, but Jacinda’s hands re-directed my path by placing me on the slam poetry team a few months into my KL journey. 

   During the years that followed, slam poetry taught me how to use bodies as tools to build scenes on stage. this was a pivotal moment in my development as a hip hop theatre artist because I began to connect movement and text with lighting and soundscape(s), which ultimately fueled my desire to learn more and more about how to create multi-layered performance art that could be produced with little to no financial input. My time as an undergraduate student and as a KLPE participant made it clear to me that collaborative art is almost always stronger than solo performances. My inspiration to continue creating comes from the excitement that vibrates through my mind and body when art meets art and new relationships form.

Ajee: KL will be kicking off our 20th year birthday celebration with this festival, part of the mission is to support our formula for theater meaning presenting it when and where on our terms, deciding who writes, acts in and attends the shows. How do you feel like your piece contributes to their mission?

LaLa: CORE contributes to the KL mission because the cast is made up of KL dancers and affiliated artists, the script and score are written by KL almuni, and the the piece can be performed in part or in full at any place and any time.

Ajee:  When you think about the discourse of the day/ the way art is so central to the current movement–where does your work fit does it fit?

LaLa: Hip Hop Theatre is a force. Its power stems from the power of the people and the strength of the common voice. As an art form, Hip Hop Theatre transforms all the time- which is beautiful and refreshing. There is no singular definition of Hip Hop or Theatre, which means the combination cannot possibly fit into a box or set of boxes. Instead, Hip Hop Theatre invites creators to explore the depths of their imaginations and present new methods of expression rooted in old school style and translated into new school rhythms. 

   CORE fits into this discourse because the production pulls from creation stories and old school house/footwork dance styles, but is presented using many contemporary dance styles and original music. CORE weaves the history of sound and dance together through the movement of bodies and poetry while also inviting the audience to engage at their own level of interest. I believe Hip Hop Theatre to be one of the most accessible forms of art- meaning nationality, level of education, and previous viewing experiences do not matter. If the production is strong it will transcend all of these borders and deliver to the audience a space to connect to art and also connect to themselves.

Ajee:  This is the first official CHHTF, presented by the KL founders, Jaquanda & Jacinda, What do you think is the significance of you being selected as a presenter at this years CHHTF?

LaLa: Being selected to present in the first ever CHHTF is significant because Kuumba Lynx is where I learned the value of voice and the possibilities that dance inside of words. From my first day at drop-in arts where I was struggling to follow along to the choreography to the present, where I am directing a full length dance theatre production- I am eternally grateful for the spaces KL has provided and continues to provide for our community.

 

The spaces where Hip Hop can be used as a learning force to create new meanings for people and their appreciation of love for the art in all forms is what makes Hip Hop beautiful. Doing this interview with LaLa taught me that you don’t have to filter Hip Hop into one genre but let Hip Hop take you on different pathways that you never thought you would get to. It’s the journey and the exploring a person does with Hip Hop that makes it so universal and for everyone to love and be a part of it. Her show is Thursday June 16, 2016 at 10:30 am at the Chicago Hip Hop Theater Fest; you will not want to miss what is about to happen because I know I’ll be there.

Peace.

 

 

Chicago Hip Hop Theater Fest’s Presenter Spotlight: Blair Christian
Blair 2        chtf2

 

As I prepared my notes and read the mini bio of Blair Christian I got my recorder ready and my phone. Blair Christian a comedian, dancer, choreographer, fashion designer and just a down right multi-talented woman that will be doing a comedy sketch at the Chicago Hip Hop Theater Festival this summer hosted by Kuumba Lynx. As I interviewed her over the phone; her personality was larger than the telephone and the connection I encapsulated from just talking with her was amazing.

Ajee: Tell me about the your ensemble and the root of your name for the Chicago Hip Hop Theatre Fest this summer?  

Blair: I’m doing one of the scenes of my production; a fusion of stand- up comedy, dance, improv, and fashion. I wanted to heighten what you see in a typical comedy show; a bigger Las Vegas but with Hip Hop. #THATGIRL is the name and it’s a movement; and it’s how I talk with the homegirls. She’s a woman that wears many hats and I started to hashtag certain pictures with #thatgirl to show different tasks to every woman.

Ajee: How did you get started in Hip Hop Theater? Where has your inspiration as an artist been honed?

Blair: I started within the park district on the North Side with Full Effect Entertainment. Then in 2003 we turned it into a company and putting our own work on theater with hip hop. My inspiration came from loving it. My inspiration for continuing the dance company was constantly teaching the kids dance, but my inspiration for everything else; is I’m inspired to influence folks in what they might do and what they want to do. But with comedy, I’m inspired by everybody in Chicago and everybody who shares the art. With fashion; I just like to look cute but on a budget. if I see something I like I know I can make it. 

Ajee: When you think about the discourse of the day/ the way art is so central to the current movement–where does your work fit; does it fit?

Blair: At times it does; definitely with women and problems with women and how we are portrayed in hip hop especially in todays hip hop. I know I always want my comedy dealing with women; letting it be funny and lighter but never negative; what it is supposed to be and what it actually is with my comedy dealing with women. I want that moment for women to come up and for men to see that we do not sound kind crazy for these ideas, but being a special species and seeing that we are special as women. 

Ajee: Do you feel comfortable being identified as a Hip Hop Theater artist? Why? Why not? What if anything has the genre/the practice contributed to you personally and artistically?

Blair: I don’t have a problem being considered a Hip Hop artist; it is amazing and is now and was one of the most influential entertainments  and music engines that rocks the world. It is a great thing but sometime can be bad because of how people abuse it.

 The practice contributed personally because of Hip Hop I got to travel the world and move around and also using Hip Hop as a buffer and relating to kids and influence them using Hip Hop. Hip Hop is a whole bunch of different things meshed into one to create different sounds. Thats what I am doing and what I’m trying to do to be this dope being. 

Ajee: This is the first official CHHTF, presented by the KL founders, Jaquanda & Jacinda; what do you think is the significance of you being selected as a presenter at this years CHHTF?

Blair: Probably just that I was around when the Kuumba Lynx conception was created and being from Uptown and being raised with the same kind of energy for developing youth. I can be a model or represent to be a part of a movement, Kuumba Lynx and Uptown and now where I am trying to be in my life and their impact it had on me and others to the youth. I think its the Uptown moment the way it is celebrated and cap off this 20 years to have people who appreciate it and knows it. Im honored and excited because I wanted to be in it and represent not only for me but for Uptown. 

As we ended our phone conversation we knew it wasn’t going to be the last time we would see or even hear from each other. Her energetic personality and the way she pulls a person in was so magnetic. Her show on Sunday June 19, 2016 at 4 pm is a show that cannot be missed because everybody knows and is #THATGIRL.

Peace.

 

 

Chicago Hip Hop Theater Fest’s Presenter Spotlight: Emon Lauren

Emon
chtf2

 

As we sat down for the second interview in the orange room it was just us and empty chairs that created a circle in the space. As we sat again criss cross apple sauce; I started the interview about her piece for The Chicago Hip Hop Theatre Fest. The Chicago Hip Hop Theatre Fest is a festival seeking to present, preserve, and promote critically engaging Hip Hop. The goal of CHHTF is to cultivate a community building & performance space for Chicago’s emerging and established artists for years to come.  The 2016 CHHTF will be presented outdoors June 15th-19th 2016. Emon, one of the numerous people who auditioned will be performing on Sunday June 19, 2016 at 1 pm.

As we sat down and became more comfortable in our chairs, we began the interview…


Ajee: Tell me about your ensemble and the root of the name for your piece in The CHHTF?

Emon: My piece for the Hip Hop Fest is called Commando. Basically it is exploring different forms and definitions of being open or naked and bare. I will be telling that experience through my relationship, my past abusive relationship and how that transpires to me really being stripped bare in a physical and metaphysical sense.

Ajee: How did you get started in Hip Hop Theatre? Where has your inspiration as an artist been honed?

Emon: So I got started in Hip Hop theatre real young. I would do speech competitions, I would always do Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni. The Hip Hop in me didn’t really come out until I got introduced to Kuumba Lynx. I started doing work with Zulu Nation and thats when I got recruited with Kuumba Lynx. But as far as Hip Hop goes for me, I started off as the beat of Hip Hop; the sample of Hip Hop thats where I grew up, from every sample of Hip Hop. From R&B, Jazz, Scatting and Rhythm, and you know the dances tat come into creating that. So I am the base of Hip Hop.

Ajee: KL will be kicking off our 20th year birthday celebration with this festival, part of the mission is to support our formula for theater meaning presenting it when and where on our terms, deciding who writes, acts in and attends the shows. How do you feel your piece contributes to this?

Emon: I feel like my piece adds a different dynamic to the brand of Kuumba Lynx. In past experience and being associated to KL, I feel like my piece it adds another dynamic of an internal layer, it shows the issues that they do deal with and how they heal because I see KL branded as a healer force; my piece shows like a story that allows their brand to heal. 

Ajee: When you think about the discourse of the day/ the way art is so central to the current movement–where does your work fit does it fit?

Emon: Thats a good question, as far as the current renaissance goes, I’m still known on the scene as a poet; as a spoken word poet. I have emerged in my own personal artistry more as far as my music goes and as far as my work goes. I feel like my biggest influential place is actually teaching the children. It’s where my dreams are being built from.

Ajee: What do you think is the significance of you being selected as a presenter at this years CHHTF?

Emon: I think that I represent a larger brand and circuit not just of women but as people. I feel like I’m being very brave by telling my story especially a mot recent story at that because theres always an expiration date on telling your story. I feel like I am really taking on what I’ve been taught through KL and this show is part of my healing process.


This show is more than a festival; it’s a showcase that encompasses and embodies the true essences of what Hip Hop is and how influential it can have on a person in any age group. Emon embodies this essence and her piece to the Fest is something to look forward to just like all the others.

 

Peace.