The Q Brothers Collective, a hip-hop theatre group, on Thursday afternoon performed excerpts from their adapted hip-hop musical play “Othello: The Remix” at the Pauli Murray Lighten Theater.
The Q Brothers is a performance group that rewrites classic plays into hip-hop musicals with the intention of merging hip-hop and theatre, said Gregory Qaiyum, founder of the Q Brothers, better known by his initials GQ. The musicals transform Shakespearean dialogue into rap lyrics more accessible to general audiences and accompanied by a constant beat.
English professor Joseph Gordon invited GQ and fellow Q Brothers member Postell Pringle to campus to perform for students in his first-year seminar “Sequels, Prequels, Reverberations, Revisions in Modern Literature.” The visit was sponsored by the Elizabethan Club, the First-Year Seminar Program, Directed Studies and the Humanities Program.
“I wanted to bridge the gap between the self that identified with hip hop and the self that identified with theatre,” GQ told the News. “By adapting something, we did something more original than I could ever dream of. We looked at old authors because the only way to adapt something without paying anything was to adapt something really old.”
The performers began the show by introducing their act and its origins. GQ said the Q Brothers premiered their adaptation of “Othello” at the Globe Theater in London in 2011. They have also performed in New Zealand, the Middle East and at various schools and prisons.
Then the group asked students to read aloud specific scenes from Shakespeare’s play “Othello,” and explained their revisions, in which Othello became a mogul at “First Folio Records.”
“The Q Brothers focus on making Shakespeare more accessible through modern elements like hip-hop and pop-culture references,” said Gabrielle DeSombre ’21, who attended the event. “As a student who has always felt distanced from classical texts, their medium of performance has made it easier to digest and appreciate these works.”
The actual play consists of 80 minutes of nonstop beats, Pringle said. Even dialogue-based scenes include music, he said, so the performance is more similar to an opera than a musical.
GQ said 70 to 80 percent of the lyrics retain Shakespeare’s original language, and all the dialogues are in the form of rhyming couplets.
“What can we strip away from what Shakespeare did to tell our story better?” Pringle asked. “How can we tell his story in the best way, taking creative license to tell a story you told 500 years ago and have the same effect? You have to adapt. It’s survival of the fittest, it’s adaptation. We feel that if you don’t do what we do, the species is more endangered and you can lose it.”
GQ and Pringle interacted with the audience after performing each excerpt, asking spectators to point out any differences between their rap performance and the original text.
The event went beyond a performance and also functioned as a workshop, as GQ and Pringle followed up their songs with discussions designed to engage the students.
“We have to search for why these characters exist,” GQ said. “If we need to cut something, we need to do more than understand why it’s there in the first place. It’s actually based in more reverence than I think can be construed from the outside eye. We’ve never discovered that a character exists for no reason, or because someone needs to fill space.”
The Q Brothers perform “Othello: The Remix” off Broadway at the Westside Theatre in New York City.
Jever Mariwala | firstname.lastname@example.org