Posted February 4, 2009

'The Seven' puts hip-hop spin on a mythic narrative

Temple Theaters experiments with a new theatrical genre in the Philadelphia premiere of The Seven

The rhythmic pace of hip-hop inspired instrumentals fills a performance hall in Tomlinson Theater as the cast of The Seven prepares to rehearse. Fitted in trendy hip-hop inspired gear, they run their lines, practice a fight scene and occasionally break out in an impromptu rhyme.

That free flow of hip-hop music and culture is the beat that drives The Seven, written by Will Power and directed for Temple Theaters by associate professor of theater Lee Kenneth Richardson.

Temple Theaters’ staging of the The Seven marks the play’s Philadelphia premiere.

A loose interpretation of Seven Against Thebes, Power’s rendition of this Greek tragedy is set in an urban enclave where  brothers Eteocles and Polynices, the sons of King Oedipus, fall victim to a family curse.

For students like Aaron Moreland, who plays Eteocles, the eldest son of Oedipus, there is a special level of freedom connected to hip-hop theater that makes the genre exciting.

“Usually in theater everything has a particular setting,” said Moreland. “With this show it’s been a journey in free-range acting. There are words on the page, but like hip-hop, you have the freedom to express what you truly feel.”

Although Aeschylus wrote the original Seven Against Thebes around 467 BC, the themes within the play are relevant to modern society, said Power.

“I started to think about the number of families that I know of who have found themselves in bad situations throughout the generations, and how the Greeks wrestled with the same issues of violence and war,” said Power.

In The Seven, the chaos that can plague a family line is set to the tone of hip-hop music, the lines are delivered in rhyme and all the elements that make urban culture unique, including dance, DJing and graffiti art, are evident throughout the play.

In the early 1990s, artists like Power began experimenting with the ways in which the cadence of hip-hop and theater could be combined to create a new genre. Although hip-hop theater is still in its infancy, several artists in the United States, Asia and Europe are beginning to experiment with the form.

“Hip-hop theater is still in its development stage,” said associate professor of theater Lee Kenneth Richardson. “It’s still developing discovering its voice. It will defiantly continue to grow and highlight the stories of modern day youth that often never find their way to the stage.”