Theater Review - No hustle, just flow

Playwright and hip-hop musician Will Power scarcely stops for a breath, but speaks for dozens of characters in his one-man show Flow. In a phone interview, the 35-year-old advocate for hip-hop theater explains how Flow’s multiple stories draw strength from both playhouse traditions and street-corner rapping.

Creative Loafing: Were you first interested in theater or hip-hop?

Power: I’ve been rapping since I was 14, but when I was 10 years old, a dancer from Sun Ra’s show lived in my neighborhood and taught theater classes. We put on these educational, Afro-centric science fiction plays, so that’s when I really started with theater. As I grew up in San Francisco’s Fillmore District, there was so much crack, so many people dying, I’d wonder, “How do you tell these stories?” And I did it through rhyming. Hip-hop theater was pioneered that way, by a handful of people in different places.

What is Flow about?

The overall idea is that it’s essential to have storytellers being active in neighborhoods. Every community has an oral tradition, and Flow is a celebration of that. Flow tells lots of stories, and I try to talk about ideas in interesting ways. The story about “unity,” for instance, is about rival gangs of cockroaches - you’ve got the Toilet Crew vs. the Kitchen Counter crew.

Is Flow more like a stage play or a hip-hop concert?

It’s like both. All the characters rhyme, even the 80-year-old women, so the aesthetic is hip-hop, like the aesthetic for The Nutcracker is ballet. It moves at a quick pace, like sampling, when you have a collection of samples that make up a song. There are 30 characters, but one may pop up for just two lines. But the plot, the character development, the lighting and sound design are like theater, not like a concert.

Is it hard to attract the mainstream theater crowd to a show labeled “hip-hop”?

It’s a challenge. ... We get 70-year-old white women with white hair digging it, pumping their fists in the air. It’s also exciting to see young hip-hop fans who’ve never seen theater before go away liking it. Hip-hop theater brings generations together, even though the world’s getting more isolated and separated.

Will Power presents Flow Thurs.-Sun., July 21-23, 8 p.m. 14th Street Playhouse, 173 14th St. $25. 404-733-5000.