Hip-hop and theater was a rare collaboration the world saw rise to mainstream stardom following the debut of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning musical “Hamilton” in the summer of 2015 and the release of Spike Lee’s film “Chi-Raq” that following December.
Now six years later, could a Louisville-based production of hip-hop theater garner even more love for the genre while teaching the city’s youth about the classical forms of acting?
Louisville creative and teaching artist Morgan Younge thinks so as she prepares to roll out a three-week summer camp that will lead up to a performance of her original script “Hip Hop Herc” — a hip-hop rendition of Hercules, a classic Greek tragedy.
“I think it’s really special because it is a lesson on classic Greek theater,” Younge said. “So (students) get things that would be a part of a school curriculum but I’ve put the twist on there with hip-hop and doing rap battles and dance battles just to really bring in a new generation that appreciates theater.”
During the three-week program, students will rehearse and learn the script, write their own raps and scenes, choreograph their own dances, and design masks for the performance to honor the legacies of traditional Greek theater despite the hip-hop remix, Younge said.
The program is free and will run from Aug. 9-20 for children ages 8-14. Registration is already open. Younge received a $1,000 grant to fund the camp and will partner with the Looking for Lilith Theatre Company in Louisville and Redline Performing Arts, where Younge is a company member and board member respectively.
“The script for ‘Hip-Hop Herc’ is delightful and funny and meaningful,” said Shannon Woolley Allison, founder of Looking for Lilith. “And the fact that she’s written it not just as something for people to watch but something for a group of students to experience as an ensemble just speaks to her talents as a teaching artist.”
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Younge’s duties as a creative range from teaching and doing residences at different places, such as Sacred Heart’s satellite drama teacher or initiating after-school acting programs for other companies, to acting herself, script-writing and costume design.
But several years ago, she wanted to “do something for herself,” she said and birthed the “Hip-Hop Herc” script.
Roughly two years ago, while teaching at Sacred Heart Academy, she tried to start the “Hip-Hop Herc” camp with two other teachers but it never got off the ground due to the high price it cost to attend, which led to few students willing to register, she said.
But the camp remained on her heart, and earlier this year she was able to secure enough funding from a Kentucky Foundation for Women grant that will now allow the camp to be free.
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Younge is excited about the free summer camp program and is relieved that with the help of Redline —whose performing space sits in the Portland neighborhood at 2500 Montgomery St., and will be open to the students throughout the duration of the camp — she’s able to bring this art form to the West End where children do not always have the best access or exposure to higher forms of art, she said.
“I think the whole concept is beautiful to me,” said Carmen Gardner, vice president of Redline Performing Arts, “morphing hip-hop with Greek mythology.
“I don’t think we’ve really seen hip-hop used in this way until recently. We had ‘Hamilton,’ of course … and I think it’s a way to gather kids who may not want to be a part of something unless they are familiar with it. The hip-hop is drawing those kids in.”
The creation of the “Hip-Hop Herc” camp and script is two-fold. Though Younge’s passion for theater and sharing its gifts are evident, her other motivation for getting the program up and running is to encourage the development of literacy and to help underprivileged children find their identity and be sure in it, she said.
“Acting is a great form of expression and it’s a great way to escape,” Young continued. “It’s also a good way for students to understand emotions as an actor … and understanding different feelings and really being able to express themselves and communicate better.”
Younge’s ultimate goal for “Hip-Hop Herc,” following the camp, is to spread the former sentiment to underprivileged and overlooked students nationwide.
She hopes to sell the script to schools and tour the nation at some point, teaching the camp’s curriculum to students herself — mainly in schools in Appalachia or elsewhere that do not have a drama teacher or program.
“Being able to learn how to express yourself and become different characters helps you understand who you are more,” Younge said. “Try being somebody else so you can know who you are. So, you can solidify what makes you, you.”
Contact Andre Toran at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @andretoran.
WHAT: “Hip-Hop Herc” is open to receive donations from the public and those interested in participating in the three-week camp. If you are interested in donating to the production visit its Amazon Wishlist at tinyurl.com/rrdksb2.
WHEN: Aug. 9-20
WHERE: In-person at the Redline Performing Arts, 2500 Montgomery St.
HOW TO REGISTER: Register online at lookingforlilith.org/summerdrama/
MORE INFORMATION: For more information, visit lookingforlilith.org/summerdrama/