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Hip-hop theater

Hip-hop theater is a form of theater that presents contemporary stories through the use of one or more of the four elements of hip-hop culture—b-boying, graffiti writing, MCing (rapping), and DJing. Other cultural markers of hip-hop such as spoken word, beatboxing, and hip-hop dance can be included as well although they are not always present. What is most important is the language of the theatrical piece and the plot's relevance to the world. Danny Hoch, founder of the Hip-Hop Theater Festival, further defines it as such: "Hip-hop theatre must fit into the realm of theatrical performance, and it must be by, about and for the hip-hop generation, participants in hip-hop culture, or both."

Hip-hop theater productions appear in a wide range of platforms including single performances, week-long festivals, and traveling repertory companies. Marc Bamuthi Joseph is an award-winning spoken word poet and dancer who has been commissioned several times to create and direct single hip-hop theater works. British choreographer Jonzi D is the artistic director of the London-based Breakin' Convention, a week long hip-hop theater festival. Rennie Harris, Mourad Merzouki, and Victor Quijada are artistic directors who run hip-hop theater companies in the U.S., France, and Canada respectively. The Rock Steady Crew, Magnificent Force, and the Rhythm Technicians pioneered this theatrical genre which started in the United States.

Though hip-hop culture has managed to establish itself on film, on television, in fashion, in music, and in the dance industry, it has not gained the same momentum in theater. Stage productions are few in number but growing. The first hip-hop stage shows were 1990's off Broadway musical So! What Happens Now? and 1995's Jam on the Groove which were co-authored, co-directed, and co-choreographed by Jorge "Popmaster Fabel" Pabon and Steffan "Mr. Wiggles" Clemente.Rock Steady Crew, Magnificent Force, and the Rhythm Technicians performed in both shows. Aside from the pioneers in New York City was Lorenzo "Rennie" Harris' Puremovement (RHPM) hip-hop theater company which Harris founded in 1992 in Philadelphia. The company has toured all over the world showcasing its original works such as March of the Antmen, P-Funk, Endangered Species, Facing Mekka, and Rome & Jewels. RHPM also organizes the annual Illadelph Legends Festival which brings together the pioneers—the people who were b-boying, locking, and popping in the 1970s when these styles were developed—and respected practitioners of hip-hop dance to teach master classes, give lecture demonstrations, and participate in panel discussions.

  • Rencontres de la Villette is a two-week hip-hop theater festival started in France in 1996. Unlike the other theater companies mentioned, Recontres de la Villette was started with the help of government subsidies from the Ministry of Culture to promote the arts.
  • Hip-Hop Theater Festival was founded in 2000 in New York by playwright and actor Danny Hoch. The week-long festival starts in Washington, D.C. and tours annually to New York, San Francisco, and Chicago.
  • Breakin' Convention was started in 2004 by playwright and dancer Jonzi D and is housed annually at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London. Every year starts off with a three-day festival in London. After the London festival, the convention tours to other cities in the United Kingdom.
  • Hip Hop goes Theatre is a theater festival that was started in 2008 by dancers Alexander Wengler and Sergej Pumper in Salzburg, Austria.


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