'Hip-Hop American’ to be staged at KU

Nicole Hodges PersleyLAWRENCE--- The University of Kansas Department of Theatre is kicking off its 2011-12 University Theatre season with "Hip-hop American," an interactive solo-performance written and performed by Nicole Hodges Persley, assistant professor of theatre. The performance is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, September 17, in the William Inge Memorial Theatre in Murphy Hall.

"Hip-Hop American," an on-going project growing from Hodges Persley's research, was staged this summer as part of the Kansas City Fringe Festival. It picks up where ?Nelson George’s 1999 book, "Hip-hop America," left off to ask what happened after Hip-hop crossed over to white suburbs and diverse racial and ethnic enclaves of America.

Hodges Persley said the performance piece asks how Hip-hop’s contentious relationship to blackness reconfiguring how we understand the construction and performance of American identity. In the performance, she explores these questions by allowing the audience to look through the eyes of six people of diverse backgrounds living in the United States.

"These characters let us into their private thoughts about Hip-hop, how it has shaped their lives in both positive and negative ways and how they see themselves as Americans," she said.

The performance features a wide array of perspectives including an African American baby-boomer who believes that Hip-Hop has “ruined things for Black people” and Jenny, a 20-something Korean B-girl who learned to “be” American by listening to African American Hip-hop artists. The show also includes a completely improvised component allowing the audience to talk back to the characters and to question their relationships to Hip-hop culture and American identity.

"'Hip-hop American' reveals the desires of those who want to “be” American without a hyphen as it investigates the ways diverse populations manipulate Hip-hop’s relationship to African American culture to remix American identity and reconfigure the black-white binary," Hodges Persley explains.

While completing her Ph.D. in American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California in 2009, her dissertation research studied "Sampling Blackness: Performing African Americanness in Hip-hop American racial and cultural identity on the artistic practices of non-African American artists in theater, conceptual art and dance." Her current book project, "Remixing Race and Ethnicity: Sampling Blackness in Hip-hop Performance," is an interdisciplinary project investigating the performance practices of Hip-hop Theatre and Performance Artists in the United States, England and France. She is one of the founding Program Directors for the Hip-hop Archive at the W.E.B Dubois Institute for African and African American Studies at Harvard University.

As an actress and director, Hodges Persley has professional acting and directing credits in theatre, film and television, including such films as "Soul Talkin’," "Fade," and "The Three Muscatels" and such television series as "The Education of Max Bickford," "Judging Amy," "Sister, Sister," "Rock," and "Martin." Her solo performance, "un-becoming," has been featured at the World Stage, California Hip-hop Theater Festival and Hammer Museum.

"Hip-hop American" is free and open to the public.