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I really appreciate Playscripts and their work toward creating better theater and theater experiences for all. Jay Muldoon Theater Teacher, Fairfield, OH
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The Break Beat Plays

A break beat is a rhythmic musical loop, born from the “breakdown” sections of funk, soul, disco, jazz, and rock records.  In the analog 70’s, some crafty south Bronx DJs isolated the breakdown sections of popular records.  Employing a second turntable and this new-fangled doo-hickey called a cross fader, they live-looped the breakdowns that moved dancers to tear up the floor.  A break beat is that driving rhythm to which b-boys pop lock and wind-will, to which MCs rhyme, call, and await response.   It is a dynamic crossroads of limbs and language.  It is the foundation of hip hop performance.

Break beats first inspired me to write and recite my own raps. Years later, I approach playwriting from the same intuitive place. To this day I let rhythm drive my pen.

August Wilson’s jaw dropping Century Cycle (which presents 100 years of African American life in all its bittersweet glory) moved me to create one of my own. The Break Beat plays explore hip hop’s effect on the poly-cultural American character of the last 40 years.  They fuse traditional theatrical tropes with that of hip hop music and performance.

How We Got On is the first play in the series.  It’s a coming of age rap drama drawn from my own upbringing in the suburbs of the Midwest.  Set in 1988, hip hop music is beginning to infiltrate the American consciousness thanks to a cable show called YO MTV RAPS.  Three fifteen year olds, Hank, Julian and Luann are trying to rhyme their way out of their mundane lives.  How We Got On utilizes a DJ narrator that treats the scenes of the play as if they were records to be manipulated.  There are rap battles in pizza shops and epic monologues from atop water towers.

How We Got On enjoyed development at the 2011 O’Neill conference, a world premiere at The Humana Festival of New Plays the following year, and subsequent remounts in cities across the country.

The good folks at Denver Center Theater (DCT) commissioned the second Break Beat play, Victory Jones and the Incredible One Woman Band.  James (or MC Victory Jones) is a 1990s one hit hip hop wonder who reconnects with his estranged daughter, April.  She is an aspiring musician with more drive than ability, who believes her unique style of live-looped beat making is her ticket to stardom.  Set in the coral colored backdrop of New Mexico, James takes April on the road to open mics and dives, teaching her life’s essential lessons.

As the first staged reading of Victory Jones and The Incredible One Woman Band at DCT’s New Play Summit nears, I have already begun outlining the third Break Beat Play. The Realness is a romantic comedy (of sorts), exploring hip hop’s love-hate relationship with authenticity.

Of course, there are several non hip hop oriented plays on my workbench.  I want to show range. However The Break Beat Plays are my primary contribution to both theater and hip hop.  They are of the same breath as the raps I penned throughout most of my life, in tune with the internal rhythms of my being.  They are works to be heard, felt, and moved to/with. Keep your antennas tuned and crank those speakers up.  I got somethin’ for you to hear.

–Idris Goodwin

Idris Goodwin’s play How We Got On, developed at The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, premiered at Actors Theatre of Louisville’s 2012 Humana Festival. Nominated for an ATCA Steinberg New Play Award and published by Playscripts, How We Got On is being remounted across the country. Mr. Goodwin is back at Humana this year as co-writer of Remix 38. This is Modern Art (co-written with Kevin Coval for Steppenwolf Theater) was selected for the 2014 New Voices/New Visions program at The Kennedy Center. Mr. Goodwin is also penning a play on Muhammad Ali for StageOne Family Theater. Mr. Goodwin recently enjoyed writing residencies with Berkeley Rep Theatre and New Harmony Project. He is a Core Writer with The Playwrights’ Center and a proud member of the Dramatist Guild. An accomplished poet and essayist, his book These Are The Breaks was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He’s performed on HBO, Discovery Channel, and Sesame Street. Mr. Goodwin teaches performance writing and hip hop aesthetics at Colorado College.

One response to “The Break Beat Plays”

  1. Art Duncan says:

    Picked this article off the side bar of my Facebook messages; I write a bit, all sorts, & am aware of the importance of rhythm but being old (70) I struggle with classical music. But thanks to you, Idris,
    ‘I’m goina try become a rapper, see if I can tap a beat or feed some rhythm
    to my words wiv heat to zap my need to self-express, that ain’t no crap.’

    Hmmm! … A little re-arrangement of the syllables needed there, I think. Thanks for the stimulus, Idris. Your influence has hit Lil’ Ol’ UK. Take care, Art, Somerset, England. February 2014

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