Q&A: ‘Break/ing’ the cultural divide with hip-hop

Marc Bamuthi Joseph, an arts activist who bridges different cultures and mediums through his work, sees himself as an educator. For Joseph, who stars in “The break/s: a mixtape for stage,” a presentation of NO BOUNDARIES which is a joint partnership between Yale Rep and World Performance Project that premieres at the University Theatre this Thursday at 8:00 p.m., art is intrinsically linked to education. Hip-hop is not only a style of music, but also a means for exploring race and culture issues in the United States.

According to the press release, “The break/s,” a multimedia theatrical performance, “explores the personal costs of hip-hop’s ascendancy from a local political/arts movement to a worldwide cultural force that creates racial and cultural expectations on an unprecedented scale.” While Tommy Shepherd and DJ Excess play live music, Joseph follows a dynamic narrative of the hip-hop generation’s history, jumping from movement to poetic revelation to personal storytelling. He dances. He speaks. He tells stories. He slams.

Joseph created the show within the framework of the Living Word Project, a theater company that produces “literary performance in the verse of our time,” where he currently serves as artistic director.

On Monday afternoon, Joseph, a National Poetry Slam champion and Broadway veteran, took a few minutes to talk to the News.

QCan you tell us a little bit about the show you’re putting up this week for the World Performance Project?

AThe piece is a combination project, a historical and travel diary as well as a multimedia performance. It tends to be critical in its analysis — towards racial politics and ethnicity. It’s a mix tape that is both personal and international. It explores the fate of hip-hop in this century by using documents that are either self-perceived or externally seen as representing the hip-hop culture,

QWould you describe your work as an activist hip-hop theater?

AThe mode of the piece is an exchange and so it’s very much instructive. I think that it’s a very energetic piece but ultimately it’s more about the subject matter than about its form. Fundamentally, it reaches across cultures and strives to tell the story of what it means to be American in the 21st century. I like to think of myself as an artist and educator. I don’t really fall into a category — if you think of visual artists that work across different types of media, they wouldn’t just define themselves as painters.

QIs there any room for improvisation?

A There is obviously a timed narrative and a script but each performance is different depending on the audience’s reaction and what happens between me and the other collaborators on stage.

QWhat has been your experience working at Yale and specifically with the World Performance Project?

AIt’s an honor to work here; it’s an institution with an important and long history. The Performance Project is not only important for theater but because it reaches across different geographies. Yale somehow represents the future and it makes sense in my mission in time and in my artistic journey to work here.

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