Hip Hop Theatre

Students create a hip hop play that explores a social issue of pressing importance. Students learn the basics of hip hop theatre, dramatic structure, plot, and character. They work independently and collectively to create hip hop poems, monologues, and scenes that explore the social realities of the issue through the experiences of themselves and those they know. They explore rhythm and beatboxing to create music to accompany their words. They create a collective hip hop play that uses theatre to change the way they and other people think about the issue.

1: Hip hop theatre improvisation
Students study examples of professional hip hop theatre, and discuss how each genre expands the other. They demonstrate and analyze stereotypical hip hop movement and rap in order to break the mold of the stereotype. Experimenting with the basics of hip hop improvisation – beatboxing and freestyling – students create a variety of characters inspired by hip hop beats. Through theatre games, they learn the basics of improvisational acting and scene-work. They then combine all these skills to create collective hip hop scenes.

2: Hip hop theatre writing
Using Teatro Campesino’s “acto” as a basis, students outline a collective hip hop play that reflects reality, illuminates specific points about a social problem, inspires the audience to action, and shows or hints at a solution. They brainstorm on paper, then aloud: What’s a question/social issue that’s very important to us or this community, one that we’d want to change people’s minds about, or have questions about ourselves? After deciding on an issue, students brainstorm a scenario that explores this issue through conflict between characters – and create an outline of their hip hop play’s plot.

3: Creating the script
Utilizing the theatre improv games and hip hop improvisation techniques from week one, students flesh out the scenes of their collectively created show, while their classmates record and critique the improvised dialogue. In small groups, students use the improvised dialogue as a framework around which to construct the script for each scene in the play. Students then read, hear, and analyze existing hip hop poems, monologues and scenes, using metaphor, simile, personification, and imagery to uncover meaning and connections to the world and student. Finally, students pick moments from their existing script in which the improvised dialogue is not enough, and use a variety of hip hop playwriting techniques to turn the moment into a scripted hip hop scene – mining moments from their own lives for the resonant details and deeper meanings that characterize good poetry and theatre.

4: Music and flow
Students listen to hip hop artists, analyze their rapping styles and beats, and discuss what character in their play is evoked by each artist. Students then determine a rapping style and musical style for each character and scene, and collaborate with hip hop beatmakers (friends, classmates, or music class) to create or select appropriate music for each hip hop scene.

5: Rehearsal and performance
When the script and score is complete, the drama teacher can proceed with auditions and rehearsals as for any spring production, so the process culminates with school- and community-wide performances of the student-created hip hop play.

To learn more about this workshop, contact Aaron.

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  • “The invigorating, near-Shakespearean rap drama Kingdom... [is] innovatively intelligent…sobering, unflinching. The score is the first I’ve experienced to make a viable case for rap and hip-hop as theatre music… Jafferis and Williams are worthy musical inheritors of Shakespeare’s legacy.” – TalkinBroadway.com
  • About Aaron

    Aaron Jafferis is a hip hop poet and playwright. Read his bio, his CV, or contact him.