Although it’s a new decade, New Horizon Theater is taking its audience on a journey to the late 1970s and early ‘80s when hip-hop was born with the production of “Break it Down,” a one-man show written, performed and produced by actor, producer, writer and playwright Herb Newsome.
“Break it Down” is a multimedia show that tells the story of the infant days of hip-hop through a live performance of the four elements of the genre: DJing, Emceeing, B-Boying and Graffiti Art.
Newsome plays 10 characters using video, music, dance and graffiti art to showcase the resilience of a people who created an artform amid gang violence and inner-city deterioration.
“I grew up in New York City and I grew up as a child of the hip-hop era and I’m a fan of history,” said Newsome, when asked why he decided to write “Break it Down.” “Once I started to learn about the early days of hip-hop, what it was like in New York City in the ‘70s and the cultural climate with urban decay and the city on the financial brink and about to go bankrupt. It was really intriguing.”
Newsome said he wanted to tell the story of the infancy of hip-hop because, quite simply, “it’s become the most popular music in the world right now, but they don’t really know the backstory to it…it’s more than music; it’s a culture.”
“Break it Down” will run for this upcoming weekend only, Jan. 10-12, at the Falk School/University of Pittsburgh, 4060 Allequippa St. Tickets are: $20 for general admission; $5 for students and seniors; $10 for groups of 10 or more people attending the same performance.
Tickets can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com. Sponsors for the production include The Heinz Endowments, Pittsburgh Council on the Arts, The Pittsburgh Foundation, Chris Moore Communications Inc., The Regional Asset District and Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.
Newsome, who received his Master of Fine Arts in acting from Penn State University and splits his time between New York and Los Angeles, is no stranger to the New Horizon Theater stage or the Pittsburgh theater scene. He has performed his one-man show, “Freeman in Paris,” for New Horizon Theater. “Freeman in Paris” won the 2011 Humanities Scriptwriting Award presented by the Institute of African American Research at UNC-Chapel Hill. He has also performed five of August Wilson’s plays: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Jitney,” “Fences,” “Radio Golf” and “Piano Lesson.”
“This guy brings all of these characters and personalities to the stage and you forget you are dealing with one person,” New Horizon Theater’s Joyce Meggerson-Moore said of Newsome. “I’m hoping the audience will come based on that and based on the acting. I think it’s going to touch more than just the young people. It talks about the history of hip-hop and a lot of times we don’t know that and it’s going to be good to know…the history of this music.”
“I’ll be doing some rhyming and some graffiti art,” Newsome said. “I was in my formative years in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, so I wasn’t around when hip-hop started but I grew up 10 blocks from the Wu-Tang Clan and Ghostface Killa lived in the building next to me and when they came out it was a big thing. Walking down the street, hip-hop was just there.
Newsome added: “I want people to walk away knowing more than they knew when they walked into the room and I want them to walk away dancing and wanting to learn more about hip-hop.”
by Genea L. Webb, For New Pittsburgh Courier