Hip hop, Playhouse style: Theater tour coming to a school near you

In an effort to bring more young people into the world of theater, La Jolla Playhouse is bringing the theater to schools across San Diego.

Hip-hop theater innovator Will Power has been commissioned by the La Jolla Playhouse to compose an original play for the Performance Outreach Program tour. The tour first began at the La Jolla Playhouse in 1987 and is designed to bring educational plays to schools throughout San Diego county.

Power’s play, “Honey Bo and the Gold Mine,” will go on tour for six to eight weeks, and it will be performed for students from second through sixth grade.

Power has written and performed in many one-man hip hop shows, but he has composed children’s plays as well. Power recently gained national attention for winning the 2006 Theatre Communications Group’s Peter Zeisler Memorial Award, given in recognition of innovative work in theater.

He was selected be the playwright for this year’s Performance Outreach Program tour based on his work for the Minneapolis Children’s Theater, according to La Jolla Playhouse’s Education and Outreach Director, Steve McCormick.

Power said the position would be a great opportunity.

“I love young people,” Power said. “The La Jolla Playhouse is regional theater, but it is dedicated to giving a voice to younger generations of theater-goers.”

McCormick chose Power because he said he was impressed with his work and saw a strong connection between hip hop and youth theater.

“Young people are critical thinkers, and they are very savvy audience members,” McCormick said. “Hip hop is a genre that they can respond to because it is uses language that makes the show much more layered, and hip hop makes the play very dynamic and accessible to the audience.”

Power said hip-hop music is an effective creative tool that allows him to reach out to younger audiences. “Honey Bo and the Gold Mine” deals with important themes and issues that pertain to kids, McCormick said. The story has an urban setting, but there are fantastical elements in the show.

The protagonist in the play, Honey Bo, is a 13-year-old girl who has to save the apartment complex in which she lives from an evil developer. In her quest to save her community, Honey Bo searches for a secret gold mine, but the play focuses the negative relationships people have with money.

“The play is about lack,” Power said. “People think that they don’t have enough, but that is an illusion. This play is about the richness of life.”

McCormick wants the messages of the play to be clear to the audience, so he organized a workshop for audience members to attend before each performance. The workshops are designed to get students to think critically about the themes in the play.

In addition, there is a question-and-answer session between the cast and the students following the show.

Any school with a performance space can be a part of the tour. “Honey Bo and The Gold Mine” is an imaginative play, so the props are minimal. There are four cast members in the show, and two crew members accompany the performers on the tour.

“Honey Bo and the Gold Mine” is a musical, and all the lyrics were written by Power. The score was composed by Power’s frequent collaborator, DJ Reborn.

Power will be in attendance for part of the rehearsal process, but he will not go on tour with the cast and crew. He was instrumental in choosing Rebecca Lynn Brown to direct the project.

Brown has directed shows for both young and mature audiences. Her past credits include a production of “Esperanza Rising” at the Children’s Theatre of Minneapolis, and she also directed a version of Sarah Ruhl’s “Clean House.”

McCormick said hip-hop theater is gaining more attention and Power is a rising star within the genre. In addition to “Honey Bo and the Gold Mine,” Power’s play, “The Seven,” will also be a part of the 2007-2008 La Jolla Playhouse season.

“The Seven” is the first hip-hop show to be featured at the La Jolla Playhouse, McCormick said. It’s a modern adaptation of the Greek tragedy, “Seven Against Thebes.” The play premiered in New York, where it was well-received.

Power said he is excited to work with the La Jolla Playhouse because the institution produces plays that reach out to younger audiences.

“I think it’s great,” Power said. “Young people usually don’t go to theater and, if only older audiences go to shows, then theater will die out. But the Playhouse is dedicated to producing new work with new voices.”

There will also be eight performances at the La Jolla Playhouse of “Honey Bo and the Gold Mine” that will be open to the public, and McCormick encouraged students to see the play more than once.

“We encourage families to attend the show,” McCormick said. “It is such a fun show and the writing is very current, dynamic and accessible.”

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