When playwright Goldie Patrick penned “HERStory: Love Forever, Hip Hop,” she had no idea that nearly a decade and a half later it would find new life and renewed relevance at the Kennedy Center as part of the institution’s Hip Hop Culture program.
The play, presented at the Family Theater on June 14 and 15, is a 90-minute trip down memory lane viewed through the lens of women in hip-hop. Patrick adeptly tells the narrative of women in a male-dominated industry through the voices of five women who have different stakes in the industry.
Coming to the aid of the fictional “HER,” a metaphorical personification of hip-hop which stands for “Hip-Hop is Everything Real” and inspired by rapper Common’s 1994 hit song, “I Used to Love H.E.R.,” the five women gather at the hospital, where “HER” is lying critically ill.
Through the stories of Maxine (Audei Polk), a former aspirational hip-hop dancer; Lele (Pershona Ambri), the DJ who made it in hip-hop production, but at the price of her reputation; K.K. (Heather Gibson), the journalist-turned-social media gossip-monger; Isys (Aakhu Tauhnera Freeman) — or was it Imani? — a pioneering female rapper who moved on to a scholarship in higher education, undergoing a transformation in persona in the process. And then there is Eve, short for Evelyn (Billie Krishawn), the artist who never knew “HER” personally, but is the only one of the group who is willing to save “HER” life.
“At 22 years old, I wrote my first hip-hop theater play, ‘HERStory; Love Forever, Hip Hop,” said Goldie Patrick, who also directed the revival. “I was inspired to write and explore the genre of hip-hop theater after seeing ‘Rhyme Deferred,’ written by Kamilah Forbes. I am unique in that women, Black women in particular, have been the center from which my love for hip-hop culture has stemmed from and grown.”
The play benefitted from an update due to the activity and presence of women in hip-hop culture over the years between its first incarnation and the recent production, supported by the hip-hop program’s For The Culture commission.
“The decision to revive and revisit this story of women in hip-hop echoes today in 2019, knowing that there are now generations of women and girls who have pioneered, supported and deeply contributed to hip-hop culture who are likely unseen and disregarded because they are women and likely of color,” Patrick said.
Her creative team is predominantly female, including Niree Turner (assistant director) John Alexander (lighting & projection designer), Kendall Arin Claxton (assistant stage manager), Katherine Freer (media/projectionist), Cresent Haynes (sound designer), Timothy Jones (set designer), Manna- Symone Middlebrooks (dramaturge), Keta Newborn (stage manager), and Ayana Patrick (hip-hop veritas).
Many of her team have long associations with Patrick dating back to her creative contributions at the Atlas Performing Arts Center’s annual Intersections festivals, where she and Fatima Quander (associate director), collaborated on ‘Feminine Folklore” in 2015 among other theatrical works.
Patrick’s many credits in theater include contributions to the local theater scene, as well as founding FRESHH Inc., started on the campus of Howard University in 2001 as a student organization and a “safe haven for sisters interested in discussing the current state of Black woman-ness in and out of hip-hop,” according to Patrick. The theater group was incorporated in 2004 to serve the same role nationwide.
In 2015, Patrick expanded FRESHH Inc. to include service to Black women by launching Sister Cypher, a writers’ circle for creative exchange in theater, writing, drama and performance supporting a year-long program to develop new work with experienced dramaturges.
“I am thrilled and honored to tell this story of the women and girls who, like me, are active and avid members in hip-hop culture,” Patrick said. “This work is a reflection of the ongoing battle I face as a professor, a fan and as a creative woman in hip-hop. It’s truly a love letter to hip-hop, told through complex characters who share stories, emotions, and a love for the culture.”
The Hip Hop Culture programs at the Kennedy Center were launched in recognition of “hip-hop’s contributions to global culture and its power to build and transform communities through art and action. Through this programmatic platform, the Center aims to create a dynamic home for hip-hop culture and celebrate hip-hop’s role as a catalyst for innovation, exploration and transformation with a dynamic mix of performances, humanities events, film screenings, workshops and interactive experiences, in person and online.”
For more information and upcoming performances, go to www.kennedy-center.org or the Kennedy Center box office, or call 202-467-4600 or 800-444-1324.