“Tonight we take back the word” exclaimed Sekou (tha misfit) and Steve Connell at the beginning of The Word Begins the 90 minute sold out extravaganza featured in the DC Hip Hop Theater Festival and performed at the Studio Theatre stage 4.
Sekou (tha misfit) and Steve Connell are long time creative partners who have written and performed together in front of packed audiences and on television and stage for a number of years.
“The word begins” is a frantic mix of theatre, spoken word and comedy that covers a wide range of cultural topics spanning race, gender, sexuality, history, power, and love. “Until you can imagine a better world, you cannot have it” is a quote from the performance and also its underlying message. Steve Connell illustrates several characters during his performance including a raunchy comedian and a racist southern preacher among others. Sekou’s characters include a rapper, a stick up kid, and an old man.
These characters helped the duo delve deep into the issues and barriers that get in the way of love. Particular attention is paid to words, not only in the context of spoken word and monologues but in the sense that the word was what everything began with.
A particularly good example of this is a scene when Sekou plays a man trying to choose a Hallmark card for his girlfriend to tell her how much he loves her. Steve, the Hallmark store clerk, takes the time to convince Sekou to tell the girlfriend that he loves her in his own word and not in the words of the man who wrote the card. This scene was especially poignant because it mixed comedy with eloquent word play to express love.
The concept of love is taken beyond the romantic, as both Sekou and Steve reflect on their childhoods and it affected their faith. Steve talked about how his mother dashed his beliefs in superheroes and childhood characters like Santa Claus.
Steve’s beliefs come full circle later when he puts out his belief in the good in people and in love. The sacrifices his mother and father made are what makes them superheroes, he told us. “God said all I want from you is one masterpiece don’t make me regret you.” If that is the case, God does not regret Sekou and Steve or their brilliant performance adapted from a performance of the same name that ran at the Signature Theatre in Shirlington, VA.
After the show, I had the pleasure to interview Sekou and Steve and ask them questions about the performance.
What was the process of writing The Word Begins, and how did you build on the idea?
Steve Connell: The performance progressed from hi and Sekou’s solo works and from broad ideas that they wanted to talk about. “Let’s just create work together.” Sekou said that this the basis of how The Word Begins got started.
Is there anything that is uncomfortable to talk about between the two of you?
It is usually a matter of how to fit something, not a matter about being uncomfortable with talking about it. Sekou and Steve agreed “We had to work out how to balance three different truths” Director Robert Egan: “Once we put it on stage we are both very comfortable and everything has been worked out.” “it’s the process that can sometimes be uncomfortable” Steve adds.
Is the show in its final state, or is it still being revised?
The show is pretty much how it is going to be, but it must always be in flux. Steve and Sekou commented that they were very excited about the audience at this performance, “it was a very balanced house”.
Later that evening I was able to catch up with artistic director of the Hip-Hop Theatre Festival Kamilah Forbes. Forbes and we spoke about the process of choosing artists and performances to be featured at the Hip-Hop Theater Festival. Throughout the year the festival accepts submissions, Forbes said, and they also go out and travel to other venues and theatres to see artists. (Here’s the link if you have something to submit,
What is the main element in DC’s Hip-Hop Theater Festival that helps it grow year after year?
. “The audience, the community that comes out and supports the festival every year… The artists also comment about the audience in DC not being like any other audience any where else the festival is held.” DC is also the only stop in the four city tour where all performances are absolutely free and open to the communities. This is thanks to the underwriting by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, she told us earlier.
When asked if being the artistic director of the Hip-Hop Theatre Festival gets overwhelming and if she ever has difficulty moving forward Forbes told me: “Working for a non profit is always stressful, there is always worry about money” Forbes adds that as an artist she wants to be in this environment and feeding off of the energy of the artists and the audience.
The reason HHTF Is free in DC is thanks to the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, which has funding for hip-hop artists wanting to develop their work, Lisa Richards told Thursday night’s audience. It’s called the Hip Hop Community Arts Initiative. Check it out, all you DC artists!
The Word Begins repeats Friday, July 11th at 7 pm. For more information about Steve Connell and Sekou (Tha Misfit) and “The Word Begins” visit www.thewordbegins.com or www.steveconnell.com or www.blindfaithrecords.com/thamisfit.html