THE REALNESS Q&A: Playwright Idris Goodwin

Idris Goodwin is a Colorado-based playwright, spoken word poet, and hip-hop artist, and the recipient of numerous honors and commissions.

Idris Goodwin 250x300The Realness is his second break beat play. The first, How We Got On, premiered in 2012.


What compelled you to write a love story?

I think as I have grown older my understanding of what love really means has deepened. Love is actually about growth. Love challenges you and helps you better understand who you are. You don’t know yourself until you identify what or who you love and what you are willing to do in the pursuit of it. The first break beat play How We Got On was a “coming of age” story about teenagers who love hip-hop, and now this next one is about the young adults of hip-hop learning how to love one another.

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Terrell Sledge and Diomargy Nunez. Photo by Meghan Moore.

What is it about hip-hop that grabs you?

Well I want to make the distinction that when I talk about hip-hop I mean the whole of it. The culture. The aesthetics. The history. Not just the products. Not just music recordings, but rather all that was in the environment that led to the creation of the music. The dances. The colors. The styles. But even deeper, the ethos.

And of course recognizing that it’s a culture that has made a lot of people outside of it rich, while the urban epicenters from which it emerged still struggle.

Many of my plays engage with African American roots music and artistic expression—from negro spirituals to blues to jazz to R&B to rock ‘n roll to hip-hop. I am constantly and consistently inspired by all of the rich history and complication of all of it.

But hip-hop played a major role in my development as a creative. I had no aptitude for many things. I was a terrible athlete. No good at math. And I wasn’t interested in established “fine arts.” Hip-hop told me: bring your sense of rhythm, your imagination, your sense of play. I started writing rhymes; that’s where I learned about structure. About character. About flow and arcs.

Becoming a playwright was inevitable.

What would you hope someone who’s not into hip-hop brings with them to this story?

I would just hope that folk would come with the same open mind they would to any other play set in a milieu in which they aren’t familiar. I mean, isn’t that the point of all this? For us to experience the world through the eyes of someone who is not us? It is the particularities of another’s story that help us better understand our own.

That said, I am also writing these plays for my fellow hip-hop heads. For those of us who were born between 1970 and 1982 who remember those first two decades of hip-hop culture. Who remember the analog sacredness, who went to roller skating rinks and dubbed cassette tapes in the basement and used to videotape every episode of Yo! MTV Raps. Who lived outside of New York and LA, and yet felt part of this exciting black/brown youth-motivated culture as they were developing their own regional hip-hop style and sound.

I want to create a body of dramas for us that will hopefully be one small patch on the theatrical quilt of human experience.

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Jessie Prez, Segun Akande, Terrell Sledge, Diomargy Nunez, and Joy Hooper. Photo by Meghan Moore.

What are the break beat plays?

A series of plays that engage with hip-hop in both form and content.

What do the primary hip-hop aesthetics look like in the context of drama? How We Got On is structured like a DJ narrated mix tape for the stage; scenes and characters are treated like records on a turntable. The Realness is underscored by beats and employs a style evoking that of hip-hop magazines like The Source and Ego Trip. But thematically, they’re exploring questions of representation, identity, and class.

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Terrell Sledge, Diomargy Nunez, and Segun Akande. Photo by Meghan Moore.

Any characters influenced by people you know?

Having myself performed in various hip hop and spoken word scenes since the early aughts, much of the play is influenced by that. I knew a lot of Primas and Lord Styles. This play is a tribute of sorts to those talented working class wordsmiths.

Can you talk a little about the idea of Culture vs. Cultural Product?

This has been one of hip-hop’s many wonderful, complex, and contradictory struggles.

How do you represent yourself and your experience and your community and your values, but also embrace growth and the outside, and also make a buck or two? And as a fan, how do you embrace the culture from a distance, and not mistake investment in cultural product as investment in the culture itself?

The Realness runs March 16 – April 10


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