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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 November, 2003, 10:13 GMT
Hip-hop steps into the spotlight
By Anna Bailey
BBC digital radio station 1Xtra

Hip-hop music is taking centre stage not only in the charts but also in UK theatres, with major venues such as Sadler's Wells and the National Theatre opening their doors to it.

13 Mics, hip-hop production
Hip-hop production 13 Mics is currently touring UK theatres

A generation of artists who have grown up on the streets role-playing and listening to MCs spinning stories are now bringing their work to fresh audiences.

For hip-hop theatre pioneer Will Power, it is about bringing theatre into the 21st century.

"Gun crime, relationships, drugs - it's about taking issues young people have traditionally heard through music and film and staging them in a live theatre arena."

Now even the classics are getting the "Eminem" treatment.

Take The Bombitty of Errors, a rap adaptation of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors complete with live DJ, turntables and a mixer.

"At first I thought Shakespeare and hip-hop a terrible idea, but then I saw the prologue and realised hip-hop is not just about loud gangster music; it's got poetic sensibility," said director Andy Goldberg.

Da Boyz
Da Boyz was staged at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, east London

So why are theatres investing in hip-hop? "Economics - getting the cash flow in," according to actor and BBC 1Xtra radio DJ Rodney P.

"In a climate where theatres are stagnating, directors are now turning towards hip-hop as a viable option, and it definitely seems to be working."

For actor Delroy Murray there is nothing better than performing in front of packed houses full of young audiences that five years ago would not have gone to see a play, let alone enjoy Shakespeare.

"I know coming from a council estate, theatre seems an elite, white middle-class arena. But it's not and hip-hop theatre has the power to show that."

Even international rap stars are taking time out from their busy schedules to tread the boards.

For artists like Mos Def and So Solid's Asher D it is where their careers started.

Hip-hop is one of the most democratic art forms around, regardless of age, gender and race
Philip Headly, theatre director
At the age of seven Asher landed his first West End role at the London Palladium in the musical Oliver before going on to acting parts in TV's Grange Hill.

"When it's live and it's there in your face it's a good buzz," he said.

The boundaries are also being pushed at the Contact Theatre in Manchester, a venue which is becoming a new social scene.

Visitors can go and see new artwork before the show and afterwards it rolls into a nightclub.

There are many people in the theatre world who believe this type of work is here to stay and not just a novelty.

And Philip Headly, artistic director of the Theatre Royal Stratford East, in east London, said it was an art form that talked to everyone.

"Hip-hop is one of the most democratic art forms around, regardless of age, gender and race, "he said. "The aim now is to sustain the momentum and keep it real."

Hip-hop theatre is featured in Acting Up, a documentary on BBC1Xtra at 1730 GMT on Wednesday.

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