Throwback To The Birth of Something New – “How We Got On
” at Forum Theatre

We took in something new this week, in Idris Goodwin’s new play at Forum Theatre (which premiered at Actors Theatre of Louisville in the 2012 Humana Festival), a play about the early days of hip-hop and rap as adopted by three suburban kids, Hank, Julian, and Luann and how they “navigate tumultuous family relationships, cultural isolation, and the search for authenticity.”poster_GotOn_2011-2012 How We Got On is directed By Paige Hernandez with a lot of reverence for a cultural expression that’s still very much with us today and the old days of hip-hop still feel very fresh and relevant (to these ancient ears at least) to what’s coming out now. The play’s use of music feels new even as it looks back almost 30 years — that’s an interesting irony and an effective twist.

So curious about how this production——added late in the planning stages of our political theater course (just after the semester started, by something of a popular demand to give more diversity to the line-up of thematically related work we were seeing)——feels both a part of, and a departure from, what we’ve been seeing up to this point. We’re bearing in mind that what we saw on Thursday night was a very first preview performance, with more rehearsals still to come for the talented ensemble and creative team still refining this lively 90 minute production. A big thanks to Forum Theatre for convening (as they always do) a great discussion on stage for all of us to participate in.

44 thoughts on “Throwback To The Birth of Something New – “How We Got On
” at Forum Theatre

  1. Idris Goodwin’s “How We Got On” presents a vastly different theater-going experience than the previous shows I have been to the past few months of the semester. Not only does it portray different communities than the ones we have seen predominantly (Black teenagers in an urban setting vs. Jewish family life), but theatrically, it deviated from the familiar, as well. For instance, the space in which the actors worked and the space in which the audience sat were so integrated with each other, almost allowing us, as the audience, to be on stage with the players. In fact, I believe “How We Got On” is a show that relies heavily on audience participation in the forms of hoots and hollers when the actors point to the theatergoers. I know that audience participation in any show affects the energy levels of the actors, but I think it especially holds true for this show with hip hop and the vibrant enthusiasm of young teenagers at the center of the drama. I realize it was only a preview which might explain the lower attendance on Thursday, but I am excited for everyone involved with the production in future shows, as I believe larger audiences will raise the energy levels through the roof of that theater.

    Going off the interaction between the actors and the audience, another thing I noticed that was different from previous shows we have seen is the “black box” theater. When I was told that this was the theater term for the type of theater we were in last Thursday, as a biopsychology major with a particular interest in cognition, I am reminded of a similar “black box” – a term many cognitive psychologists use to refer to the mind. I wonder if there is a parallel between the two. After all, in the show, we are, in some ways, transported to the minds of Hank, Julian, and Luann as they embrace hip-hop to find out who they are as people and how they fit into the world. In any case, I think using “black box” theater to the show’s advantage was an excellent move theatrically.

    One last point I wanted to raise in my blog posting is how much I loved the character of the Selector and how much I think she was very necessary to the understanding of the play as a whole. She narrated the story and helped engage the audience, as well as absorbed an array of vastly different characters and switched between them with such ease. The Selector seemed to be controlling Hank, Julian, and Luann with her turntables, which further wove the element of hip-hop throughout the storyline. Her character is nothing like I’ve seen this semester, and it was so essential to the play’s overall messages.

    All in all, great production! I wish Forum Theater very successful shows of “How We Got On” in the future!

    • TJ, first, I agree the role of Selector was crucial as she produced a rhythm throughout the show. Her tone, speed, and variations of her voice set the pace of the interactions between the actors on stage as she interacted as the narrator when she was not impersonating another character (the fathers of Luann, Hank, and Julian).

      I never thought about the “black box” of the mind analogy and really connect with what you say above about the usefulness of the black box theatre setting for this specific show. More so than any other show we’ve seen, I feel the black box theatre connected the audience with the actors in a necessary interaction essential to the show’s portrayal of hip hop and how it envelopes the mind as Luann explains. More than any other show, I felt a part of the play happening in front of us, not just because of the relative proximity of the actors to the audience, but because of the repeated breaking of the fourth wall, incorporating the audience through the means of the Selector and, at times, the characters directly involved in the storyline who directly address the audience in various and unexpected asides. Thanks for a great show, Forum!

    • TJ,
      I agree with how crucial audience and audience participation is for this show. Rap especially relies on an individual’s voice and energy and I think it also needs a crowd to help fuel and support the performer’s creative product. I felt the actors had high level energy the entire show but, because of our lack of numbers in the audience we weren’t able to match that energy. I felt a bit of hollowness in scenes where we were clapping along with the actors. Part of it I think is the size of theater itself, this was the largest black box I’ve ever been in and noise really echoed throughout the building. Since it was only the first preview, once the show starts to pick up momentum and audiences start to turn out I think that the energy of the show and the music will really flow throughout everyone and there will be a sense of community between the audience and performers sharing power of rap music.

  2. The first thing that stood out to me about this play was the set. Unlike all of the other plays we’ve seen this year, “How We Got On” did not have a stage that separated the actors from the audience. Instead, the actors performed mostly on the ground, aside from a water tower/DJ table and a few short mini-stages. I liked this aspect of the set because it made me feel more like I was apart of their story as opposed to just watching a show. I also enjoyed that the audience was able to interact with the actors to a certain extent – like when we were encouraged to clap along with the music, or when Hank gave high-fives to some people in the first row.
    Another thing I noticed about the stage, while waiting for the performance to start, was that there were several giant letters scattered around the set. I was curious as to what their purpose would be in the story. About mid-way through the performance I realized that each of the letters (H, L, J) stood for the first letter of each character’s name (Hank, Luann, Julian) and the color of the letter reflected the color of the character’s clothing. I’m not really sure what the point of having these letters was, but I found it entertaining to slowly figure out what they stood for.
    In the discussion after the performance, we were asked to call out a few themes in the play that stood out to us. I said “repetition,” because there were many scenes during the play that involved the characters repeating their lines. Sometimes they would begin a scene by sort of stuttering their lines, in a way that reminded me of a DJ scratching a record (which reflects the 1980s time period). The Selector would also inform the audience about how DJs create song beats, which was demonstrated by the other actors’ simultaneous repetition of a word or phrase in a variety of rhythms.

    • Gen, you make some interesting observations! While the audience engagement and proximity to the action was one of my favorite aspects of the play, I didn’t quite think about the stage in the way you put it. Now that I do think about it, I see how the stage had no demarcation between cast and audience. I, too, found the general feel of proximity to the cast to be rather instrumental to the story- telling. It added a nice layer of liveliness and built a relationship between us (the audience), and the cast. Also, the letters! When I saw them in the beginning, I was curious to know what they represented. Funny enough, as the play progressed, they kind of faded into thin air for me. I never revisited them until your comment. Could they have stood as a symbol of identity and individuality? I mean, I think of how they all brought their different and individual personalities, “letters,” and “colors” to the story. Just a thought on that.

    • Genevieve, I also found it interesting how the stage was set up. Since I got to sit on the front row, I was often very close to the actors. It was surprising in the first scene to see the actors step onto their small platforms almost four feet away from me. Even when they climbed up onto the water tower, the setting still felt very intimate. While this close proximity to the play originally felt uncomfortable and awkward, I began to enjoy it in the scenes when the actors performed together. The staging in this play helped create a lively and realistic setting. It helped me to not only feel like a part of the tight-knit friendship of Vic, Hank, and Luann but also of the 80’s rap community.

    • Genny GREAT eye! I never noticed the letters as representing the first letter of each character’s name. I saw the letters, but did not put much thought into them outside of that. Interesting and you have shown me that there is so much more to theater than the word choice or time setting. Everything has a purpose and makes the play what it is. Thank you for that!
      Lastly, I think that the stage was definitely more engaging than any of the other plays we have seen. Very fun, up-close, and personal in the sense that the characters were literally in your face and actively engaging the audience. This made me want to jump up and start spitting some lyrics.

  3. “How We Got On” at Forum Theatre was my first black box theatre experience. When I first walked in, I was unsure about the set. To my inexperienced eyes, it was a large, relatively empty room where the bleachers of chairs seemed to impose on the set “stage,” which featured small platforms strategically placed on three corners of the space, a tall platform in the left corner, and a mid-height set up of a desk with a small staircase leading to it. The space reminded me vaguely of Marie Antoinette’s stage once the glamour and early sets were stripped away, leaving a bare, empty space and Marie. Similarly, the “emptiness” of this black box theatre production refocused my attention from the set to the characters and their interaction with the space.

    Although the narrative of “How We Got On” is a story about friendship and perseverance, I found the underlying story to be Hank’s journey to overcoming the “boo” of the audience, or his fears of letting go and giving into his passion despite the possible criticism. Hank’s development correlates with the levels of stage. We are first introduced to Hank as he sits, crouched, on a short, front platform closest to the audience. He then begins to stand progressively more actively throughout the show, leading to when he climbs the water tower with Luann. The culmination of Hank and Julian’s development and realization of their collective dream occurs when Julian stands on the water tower while rambling words and beginning to construct rhymes. In this moment, Julian redefines the highest plane of the stage and Julian and Hank – together – proceed into a new stage of their friendship, their personal journeys, and their collaborative music production. The show ends with Luann, Julian, and Hank standing together on the water tower platform, defying the former boundaries of the stage and their obstacles to pursuing their passions for hip hop music. The MC, Selector, then, transitions as well from her initial position as the tallest active point on the stage (where action is taking place) to becoming the average stage level throughout the show, recognizing her omnipresence as both the narrator and various characters throughout the play.

  4. I was excited for this play primarily because it was centered on music. I was interested to see what songs, styles, and artists the theater would use and how 80’s rap music would arise in the story. However, the use of music in this play was far from what I anticipated. I had expected 80’s rap to make a more direct appearance in this play. In contrast, the music came in unforeseen, clever ways that made me appreciate the music far more than I would have if 80’s rap music had just played in the background or was recited by the characters.

    One of my favorite ways that music sneaked into the play was through the rhythm and style of the characters’ voices. The tones and paces of the characters’ voices created a musical environment that demonstrated the attitude and feelings of 80’s rap. While it would have been interesting to hear samples of 80’s rap interspersed throughout the play, I don’t think it would have set the mood of the music as well. For instance, the Selector’s choice of words and the speeding and slowing of her voice set the rhythm of the play. Her use of pitch likewise acted as beats for her own speech. I found it very interesting how she, herself, could create her own music through her speech.

    I also liked how each scene started with a character repeating their first words over and over like a turntable. It was almost as if each scene was to be treated as its own rap, with its own mood and story. I found this a very clever way to break up the scenes of the story.

    While the use of music in this play was far from what I had anticipated, I actually found it to be far more useful in setting the mood and feelings of the period than simply playing 80’s music would have. I really enjoyed how the ways that music makes an appearance in this play place the audience in 80’s rap without being too explicit or obvious.

    • I agree with your opinions on the use of 80s rap in this play. I was expecting “How We Got On” to be more like a musical that included popular hip hop songs from the 1980s. Instead, as you discuss in your post, the music is more subtly “sneaked into the play” through the characters’ actions. One example of this is when the Selector has the characters repeat snippets of their lines simultaneously to create a music beat. It’s cool that you noticed that the 80s music was reflected in the characters voices and tones as well. I hadn’t really considered the Selector’s speech as a form of music, but that’s an interesting observation.

    • Gabbie,
      I really liked your observations about the start of each scene. I had noticed that every once in a while, the actors would repeat or stutter their words. However, I was focusing on other parts of the scene, like their movements on stage, so it was good to see your perspective.

      I also agree with your statements about the 80’s music. I feel like just playing the music would distract the audience from the actor’s performance because there would be too much happening at once. Also, I believe that plays should make the audience work to understand what is going on. If they just say everything their thinking, or tell you everything that is happening, it’s not as fun for the audience because everything is laid out in front of them and there is less room for different audience interpretation. Like you said, playing music would have been too obvious and wouldn’t have allowed each audience member to create their own “stage”.

    • Even from the beginning of the play, the Selector set the pace of the performance. Each scene began with a lead in from the Selector, creating a dynamic that would then be continued by each of the actors on stage. When Hank and Julian had their first battle, the Selector created a setting as though hundreds of people were gathered on the blacktop, simply by introducing the scene through her music and her words. As such, the Selector was truly the one thing that pushed the play forward and determined the direction of the performance, a truly remarkable feat and an incredibly interesting role for what is seemingly a minor character.

  5. One of the most interesting things to me about Idris Goodwin’s play How We Got On was the number of disparate elements that it blended seamlessly into the story. For example, far from just being a simple “coming of age” story, How We Got On managed to combine a variety of different things like rap music, suburban life, and teenage angst into what turned out to be an extremely entertaining play. I suppose Goodwin is not unique in his use of elements like this to tell his story, but it undoubtedly added to the power of his play and to the depth of his characters. This latter point may have been a little easier to accomplish simply because there weren’t all that many of them—his play required a total of four actors. The three main characters ultimately overcome their various inhibitions to form a rap crew of their own. These inhibitions range from simple things like self-esteem issues, to more difficult challenges like parental interference and socioeconomic and gender barriers. Ultimately, we might consider this play to be not only a coming of age story of a traditional bent to conveying a particular message of self-empowerment or personal autonomy. To those who do not consider rap music to be a suitable medium for this sort of message, How We Got On may make you think differently. As someone who does not enjoy listening to hip hop or rap, I was pleasantly surprised by the use of music in the play. Not only was it shown to be a uniquely suitable medium to convey the play’s message, but it made me think differently about these genres as a whole. Our discussion with the actors and director after the play helped me to understand why. Far from being the heavily commercialized sex-drug-violence saturated music that we hear today, early rap music from the eighties is deemed to be more “pure” by those who study the genre. Its appeal then, should be nearly universal, to the extent that it relates to overcoming barriers, self-expression, and the resolution of conflict. Ultimately, How We Got On was not only a thoroughly enjoyable play, admirably performed, but it was a performance that might just make you change your mind about an entire genre.

  6. A major theme I took away from “How We Got On” stems from Julian’s line about how he is going to “be seen.” I believe the idea of rap as a way of being seen is something that connects Luann, Julian, and Hank and is an underlying theme of the play as a whole.

    For Julian, he believes rap is a way for him to be seen by his father. He needs to be a “champion” of something in order to receive the attention and praise he desperately craves from his father. Luann has many ways that rap helps her stand out. It is mentioned that she is one of five girls; rap helps her find her own voice and be an individual among all of the girls in her family. Rap also represents the true personality Luann wants to be seen for. Even though her father is constantly trying to suppress her voice and her passion, Luann finds a way to keep the art inside her alive because she wants to be seen and be known by the music she is able to create. For Hank, rap also represents the person he wants to be seen as, but it is also his boundary that keeps him from being seen. Throughout the play we see his passion and his dedication and how he wants is to have his creations seen, even if he isn’t the one performing, but his inability to overcome his defeat and his fear of mistakes while rapping hinders him for part of the play.

    The idea of being seen also connects to a lot of the ideas the actors were speaking about in the post-show discussion, it was said that in the 80’s rap and hip hop were “the voice of the people” and MTV Raps was “the one hour a week you could see someone like you.” I interpret this to mean that the playwright and director wanted to communicate that for not only the kids in the show but for all the kids growing up a part of the 80’s rap and hip hop scene this music was a way for them to be seen by a world where rock and 80’s pop didn’t represent their experiences and their life.

    • I agree with you, Molly. There is something about us as human beings that makes us want to be seen or acknowledged by others. We do not want to fade into the background, and we want everyone to realize that we are just as valid as the next person. It is refreshing to me when people do it through harmless music or any other form of art. I think this is why the arts matters a lot. It gives a voice to the voiceless.

  7. In many of my blog postings, I have discussed how fluid the medium of theater can be: playwrights can make changes, plays can be re-written, each performance can be nuanced. However, How We Got On contrasted from many of the other productions we have seen in that it seemed to be set in stone. Since it was the very first show and there was some room for improvement, a couple of members of our class made comments that critiqued aspects of the play: the role of music in the play and the role of the selector. I personally agreed with each of these critiques, but I think that is beside the point. I thought the way the critiques were addressed was defensive and dismissive. Though as audience members our input may not be informed about the whole play production process, it is our opinion that matters, because at the end of the day it is ticket revenue that is funding these productions. While I don’t expect them to go make major changes to the play now, I think that the opinions of our classmates still warranted better consideration than they received.

    The reason I agreed with James’s comment about the selector is a simple one that we talked about early on in the semester: the importance of showing, rather than telling, a story. The selector played quite a few roles, but the primary one was as a narrator. This really made me feel like the story was being spoon-fed to me, and I would’ve been able to put the story together without it. One thing I really liked about the selector’s role was how she played the three dads. The way she changed her voice, mannerism, posture, and even more subtleties made it clear to me which man she was supposed to be at which time. Despite the differences between these three men, I liked that they were played by the same person because they were all playing similar roles in their children’s lives.

    • Sera, you bring up a good point about The Selector, she was in a telling rather showing role. Though this is a point I cannot refute, I must say I did not mind it in this play. I thought it was a great way of contextualizing the play and learning about the time. For instance, the audio recording device they were trying to earn through the competition wouldn’t have meant as much to me without the The Selector walking me through the device’s significance. i agree that one of the best aspects of The Selectors was her ability to play several different roles. The actress, Alina Collins Maldonado, did a phenomenal job and demonstrated the elasticity an actor can possess.

    • Sera,
      I was on the fence when it came to the importance of the Selector in the play. I completely agree with you that there is a higher value on plays that have more showing than telling and for this the Selector was not my favorite character. Also, I found that at times when the Selector came in talking I saw it as ‘interrupting’ the story and the frequent breaks took away from the play. On the other hand, the Selector did convey some important information about the times and I was glad when she informed the audience of the different cultural aspects. In the end, I don’t believe that the Selector should be edited out of the play entirely but I do feel like there should be fewer breaks in the acting and fewer comments from the Selector.

    • I take issue with your casual dismissal of the role of narrators in dramatic productions as merely “spoon-feeding” stories to the audience. Especially in this production, narration characters provide key contextual information to the audience that they might not be able to gain just from listening to the characters talk. This isn’t a case of telling, rather than showing, though.

      Just imagine if the selector had not been present. How else would we have understood the relationship between each of the three other characters and their fathers? Adding in scenes with separate actors for each would have taken too much precious time, but simply having the characters say it out loud would be boring and besides the point.

      And while I agree that in a talk-back such as this one, it is our opinion that matters, much of the critiques we provided were content-focused, rather than production-focused. I believe the director had a right to clarify the hard work everyone had done, since we seemed to be focused on only the shallow aspects of the production.

  8. Every show we’ve seen so far has been emotionally intense, and How We Got was a nice break from all that. It was incredibly fun and even interactive to some extent especially when the characters had us participate as the audience of the show they were on in the show. I also loved the rhymes the guys and LuAnn were spitting throughout the show. I couldn’t necessarily understand everything that they said, but at the same time the rhymes were clean and fun. They were not like what we hear in mainstream media today where the lyrics are extremely violent and misogynistic.

    I really liked the concept of the water tower as well. I think the water tower represents dreams and goals we hope to achieve in life. But it can be scary to take the risk toward that dream or goal. And LuAnn said something very important. When you are climbing the water tower in your life always keep in mind that there will be mistakes, and that is okay. Right now as an intern when I’m given an assignment that makes me step out of my comfort zone a bit, I get afraid of making mistakes. However, as an intern mistakes are highly inevitable. But once you make a mistakes it becomes easier to avoid making that mistake again. So my take away from this show is, “do not be afraid to climb the water tower.”

    • Ann,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the play. I, as well, really enjoyed LuAnn’s message of acknowledging that Hank will make mistakes as he learns to freestyle. Obviously, the larger message lies in the fact that whether or not freestyling is a part of your life, we will all make mistakes as we navigate the scary terrain of life. While this message may be considered cliche, it is especially powerful coming from an actor portraying a drama on stage, even more so coming from one who is playing a 15-year-old teenager. I think if we commit to this ideal more, it would empower us to climb more of the water towers in our life. Stepping outside of our comfort zones is a good thing…after all, it’s something that I did when I moved out to DC for the semester and I’ve learned a lot about myself atop this water tower of my life so far!

    • Ann,

      I enjoyed hearing your comments on the water tower, as I too wrote about its significance. I especially liked that you pulled a line from a water tower scene. One of my favorite lines in the show is during the scene in which Hank and Julian are standing on top of the water tower and the Selector says something to the effect of: Julian desperately wants to breathe in joy, but before he can do that he must breathe out everything that is not joy. I think that this line also works well with your comments on not being afraid to do new, uncomfortable things and make mistakes. Sometimes the best things that we can do are also the most uncomfortable, but we have to practice “breathing out” or letting go of those fears and anxieties that hold us back before we can allow ourselves to “breathe in joy” and try something new. I also plan on taking this lesson with me to my internship, and wherever else I find myself confronting something new and challenging in life.

    • Ann, thanks for your comments on the play. I agree that How We Got On was a nice change from some of the other plays we’ve seen this fall. While it wasn’t hard to get emotionally invested in the characters and their lives, I do think it was a different sort of connection than we’ve had with past characters. One reason for this might be that we were invested in these characters for different reasons, positive ones instead of negative ones. For example, in Belleville we may have felt some connection to Abby or Zach, but probably not for many good qualities as opposed to bad ones. Things like uncertainty or self-doubt or insecurity stand out as central to their situations, whereas How We Got On led us to affiliate with the characters for reasons that were less sinister for some reason. It might also be that this play was just really enjoyable to watch! Either way, I imagine one of the more important takeaways has to do with that pivotal scene revolving around the water tower.

  9. Before anything else, I would like to say how much I appreciated the community feel of the talk- back session. It felt like the audience was more connected to the cast, and that’s powerful even when a show is over.
    The first thing that stood out to me about our viewing of How We Got On was the engagement and make- up of the audience. I think of the monologues directed at the audience by the characters, the waving and clapping, and the induced cheers that were a part of the rap battles. They brought certain liveliness and nearness to the play. That being said, who really was this audience? Not many people, and a crowd unlike any we’ve observed throughout this class: younger and much more diverse. It made me think about the kind of people that theater attracts, and the kind of theater that attracts certain people.
    In addition to audience engagement, the set itself, and how the story was weaved into the delivery were both great. There was the one spot in the corner that housed the selector, and from it sprung the rays that were kind of telling each story as though each story were flowing from the stereo. The rewind and replay features, and the selector’s motioning that directed the flow of the play, were also a great way to bring about the flow of the stories through those rays. It was like one big Hip Hop story song that the selector was inspiring and navigating. Those roles that she played made her character very refreshing to me.
    How We Got On was yet another play that tackled identity. Each rapper was on a quest to explore his/her fascination with Hip Hop, while trying to authenticate/ validate that fascination to their fathers, to society, and to themselves as well. The time they spent with themselves on those mini stages really depicted those journeys of self- discovery. Also, there’s a subconscious connection made between Hip- Hop consumption black people, and growing up without a father. What this play does is it takes Hip Hop to a suburban area, shows fathers having an instrumental role in their children’s self- discovery, and it also illustrates the universality of Hip- Hop.
    One challenge that I experienced in watching the play, however, was processing the beginning part. There seemed to be a lot of spoken word coming out of what was at that time, nothing. It really confused me for a bit. I think it would have been nice to somehow bring us back to that beginning spoken word by the selector, especially. I see in that, a wonderful opportunity to further tie things together.

    • K.K., I did not even think to note the audience, but you are absolutely right and very observant. For once, we were not that random group of “youngsters” in a sea of elderly audience members. I think that definitely changed the atmosphere and affected the level of interaction and participation we had with the show. The cheering during the rap battles and the high fives with the front row was a much more “hands on” theater experience than we have had so far. I also like your observation about the rays on the floor coming from the selector’s stand signifying the source of the narrative. Overall, really great night of theater and a very entertaining performance. I am just sad it was so short.

    • I thank K. K. for cleverly pointing out how Goodwin uses the stage as an opportunity to expose a common misconception about blacks who love hip hop music, and the presumption that they grew up without their father’s guidance. I didn’t pick up on this subtile point, but the persistance of these fathers for their brown skinned children to pursue an education, which will eventually lead to a career and more financial security, is obvious to me. I think there can be a sense of pride when a child follows in the footsteps of a father, especially when there are elements of universal prominence attached. For example, if Luann had pursued her father’s wishes to become a doctor, he would be more approving because doctors\lawyers were “socially” acceptable professions over that of a rapper. Yet I recognize Hank’s father as reasonable in his attempt to encourage his son by showing support of his poetic writing skills set to music. It always feels good when the people you love most acknowledge that your passions are worthy of their validation. And I am left wondering if Hank’s father had someone who recognized his passion and encouraged him too.

  10. I do not feel that the play, “How We Got On”, was much different than plays we have seen so far. Of course there were parts that made it feel like a departure from other works, such as the selector’s role and “the mini stages” on the bigger stage, but overall, the goal of relatability and making the audience feel a certain way is what makes it feel similar. Like the director said in the post-show discussion, if you walked away from the play feeling a certain way or reflecting back on your childhood, they did their job.

    For me, the moment that brought me back to my childhood was having to prove myself, or my dreams, to my parents. Growing up, I always wanted to go to cooking school. I loved watching my parents make dinner every night and various cooking shows on the Food Network. However, like Julian’s father, my parents always put the emphasis on sports. I had tried all of the popular sports, like softball, soccer, volleyball, and basketball, but none of them really stuck with me. When I went to my parents once and mentioned I wanted to learn how to cook, they just kind of looked at each other and told me I could learn at home instead of wasting time at a school. (However, my parents did not really have the “technique” I was looking for). After my dream of going to cooking school got struck down by my parents, I just kind of gave up on it and went back to trying out other sports. Eventually, I found a sport I was passionate about, but “How We Got On” made think back and wonder what would have happened if I was more persistent about my dreams, like Hank and Julian were.

    And the moments I could relate to in the play did not stop there. Hanging out with my friends and walking around town listening to music and fighting with kids from other parts of town all brought me back. In my opinion, the actors did their job that they set out to accomplish with their performance.

    On a side note, I loved how the play encouraged audience participation. Clapping along to the raps and high fiving the actors made me feel like I was a part of their production and not just watching in the audience.

    • Meaghan,

      I can definitely see how this play was relatable for many people in the audience. Almost everyone has dealt with proving themselves to their parents or defying their parents’ plans for them, which was a main theme of this production.
      However, I felt like this is exactly why I wasn’t enthralled with this production. Throughout my childhood my parents were supportive of my dreams to become Avril Lavigne or the editor of Vogue or whatever crazy phases I went through. In this way, I guess the play didn’t really do its job for me, as it didn’t send me reflecting on my own childhood.

  11. The production of Idris Goodwin’s play “How We Got On” was fun take on classic storyline. Though the plot and themes were timeless and can be seen in other movies and plays, I enjoyed the presentation because it infused music to express itself. I enjoyed the staging of this production. For instance, the mini stages were a great way to individualize the characters and give them their own voice in a very visual way when they presented their asides to the audience. The water tower being strategically placed in the back corner furthest away from most of the audience added a level of reality to the scenery because when I think of a water tower, I think of it as an object one would see from a great distance. Additionally, the red light above the water tower, which perplexed me at first, was a great symbolic touch to the scenery (I interpreted it as the red light that goes on when artists record music in a studio).

    The choreography in the play was a great touch that added a layer of entertainment to the musicality and storyline. The moves were lighthearted and also felt right for the period of the play. I thought the period of the play was really interesting and served a purpose to demonstrate the power of hip hop, especially today when hip hop has been commercialized and radicalized in people’s minds, you will, as a vulgar genre. This play challenges what hip hop is today by presenting its origins as making something out of nothing and building your confidence when you don’t have anyone who has your back. One of Hank’s line that stuck with me was something to the effect of: when you’re rapping, you’re always the winner in your song. That line was important to me because it universalizes hip hop and does not make it exclusive to any person or community, but rather it welcomes all people – event someone from a wealthy, privileged upbringing as Hank and Luann.

  12. How We Got On provided an entertaining and thought-provoking look into the lives of teenaged suburban kids trying to make it through hip hop. While coming-of-age stories almost always hinge on relationships between the protagonist and his peers, How We Got On used those relationships to develop each character in the story. Hank and Julian’s friendship began out of a rivalry, but the two quickly became partners both in the studio and on the blacktop. They both pushed the other to make a name for himself, whether that be Julian as Vic Vicious, the aspiring rapper, or Hank as his DJ.

    Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of the performance was the relationship each character had with his or her father. Hank’s father was primarily concerned with his son’s development as a student, as he himself was a well-educated man. Julian’s father was almost non-existent, spending more of his time watching television than caring about his son’s future. Luann was the spoiled child of the bunch, with her father the basketball star, but she still was not quite the rich daddy’s girl that she could have been.

    All three of these characters had tough relationships with their father, and each was drawn closer to the other through these relationships. This closeness was shown best when the Selector was at center stage, rotating — literally — to face each of the three teens, assuming the role of each of their fathers as she did. The Selector was instrumental in the flow of the story, tying each character and each stage of their development together. As Hank and Julian grew more into themselves, and as Luann pushed Hank to become a true rapper, each character began to understand what hip hop embodies; each character was forced to find their own place, regardless of their home situation, their suburban lifestyle, or even their relationships with each other.

    • Andrew, I’m glad you brought up each character’s relationship with their father because that was an interesting theme in the play I noticed as well. The scene in which The Selector seamlessly switches between the characters of Hank and Julian’s fathers was amazing to watch, and really emphasized the similarities and differences of the two. Neither father supported the pursuits of their son, but each did so in different ways. Hank’s father seemed simply unable to comprehend his son’s obsession, and Julian’s father just had no interest. That scene drew out the differences in Hank and Julian’s characters by showing their upbringing, but also explained their shared desire to prove themselves.

  13. I think the experience of watching “How We Got On” was both unique and in line with our previous theater experiences this fall.

    Unique, in terms of the actual production. The black box theater gave us a unique physical space to view the show in, a space which almost seems necessary when looking back on it. Could this show have been experienced in the same way with more traditional boundaries between audience and actors? I say no, because so much of what I remember is being able to see the concentration on the actors’ faces as the hold position or actually see the sweat drip from their faces after a particularly long dance sequence.

    This proximity to the actors transformed our relationship from observer and the observed to almost equal participates in each other’s experiences. With that comes a heightened feeing of being involved in the production, almost as if you have a personal stake in the outcome. This is an experience I have not gotten from any of the other productions, which I think is due in part to the stage situation and partly due to the show itself, which I connected with much more than the others.

    However, there were still connections with the previous show that I saw in this production. The biggest is the struggle for identity, which was a major aspect to the story. Of course, this is a story about a different population than we have seen previously, but there were undercurrents to the show that can apply to everyone. Finding yourself, trying to make your dreams come true, these are all very common throughout the other shows we have seen.

    What makes this show unique is the way they incorporated the topic into the form of the story. Instead of writing a play about three kids trying to show their passion for rap music, Idris Goodwin crafted an experience that folds the audience into music and rhythm to make them feel the story, as well as see it.

  14. This performance was so different than what we have seen as a class and I really enjoyed it. The minimalism of the set and the props and the small cast left room for the music, character, and story to take up more space. The selector was a wonderful part of this production and a very clever vehicle for narrating this story. In my mind, the selector was the DJ for a popular radio station, and the way she told the story of the three friends and the birth of rap made me think that she was doing a tribute show of sorts to explain how this famous rap group with Hank, Vic, and Luann first “got on.” Another thing I loved about the selector was her ability to switch between characters in what looked like an effortless transformation. Her posture, body language, voice, and enunciation all changed completely. The scene in which she stood in the middle of the stage and flipped between Hank and Vic’s dads was an incredible display of talent.
    Aside from the talent and the look of the play, one line from the beginning stuck out to me the most. Hank was explaining why he loved writing lyrics and why rap was a wonderful form of music because “In rap, you are the winner.” The line rang so clearly and, in my mind, was the motivation for everything that followed. Hank, who wasn’t all that great at sports, who didn’t study as much as his father would like, whose bike wasn’t nearly as cool as the other kids’ and whose choice in music wasn’t shared by the “stuck-up black kids” just wanted to win. He wrote the lyrics so he could feel powerful, but wasn’t powerful enough to perform them himself. His journey to voice his lyrics was a journey to be a winner. Vic, whose father was selfish and disinterested, whose pizza job was frustrating, whose only talent was to copy other artists, he also wanted to win. The friendship that Hank and Vic shared was their way of winning finally. Luann also wanted to win. She wanted to distinguish herself from her sister, she wanted to prove that girls are just as good as the boys, she wanted to share her talent and her joy with others who appreciated the music. She found that audience and that friendship in Hank and Vic. This play was less about rap and more about the friendship that came from it. These three young kids found each other. Even though the play’s short run time and abrupt ending left me expecting more, I think the story was complete. These three all were winners in the end.

  15. How We Got On was the first play that I decided to enjoy without the need to take down notes while I watched. This worked half and half. I focused on one or two ideas, but I still had the desire to take notes and had to constantly remind myself – it is ok to not take notes and just focus on the play. Therefore, I think I can work on this more and become comfortable watching without taking notes.

    So, what I realized about the play is that it took me back to my childhood. The storyline of a friendship being forged through rapping and the creative arts is something I am extremely familiar with. Graffiti, beats on any and everything around, and writing lyrics defines my time living in Detroit for eighteen years. I thought that this was the most powerful part of the play. It had the capability to bring me back to Detroit, my high school, and my life all in one setting!

    One thing that I noticed and thought was an interesting choice was when Hank – Manu Kumasi – turned to the crowd and talked to us. The reason I found this interesting is not because of the choice itself, but the choice of where Hank looked. He looked at the portion of the crowd that was completely empty – besides the one girl in the far back corner, but Hank did not look at her anyways. I found it interesting because it seemed to throw off the “reality” of the play and engaging the crowd. It became evident that this was staged and almost automatic and in turn I lost that feeling of being transported to my childhood – plus it was a little awkward to watch. I think for future shows he should improv and solely look at the areas with an audience.

    Lastly, I think that the talk back was interesting, but for the wrong reasons. I enjoyed the fact that there was passion for the work and the play that was created, but anything that was negative or constructive immediately got shot down and almost attacked. I felt that there was a defensiveness that does not belong in receiving opinions and criticisms – especially when asked for them.

    • I too noticed the way Hank was looking at the audience, was staged. I thought this was all very ironic considering that I see this show evolving into a very audience-reliant show. So the question is then, what is the boundary between staged inducing reaction and a genuine energy exchange? Personally, it did become awkward for me to watch because whenever Hank looked to the sides where there were no audience, it felt like there was a definitive wall between the stage and the audience while later on, Hank was actually asking for some clapping or waving.
      I too agree with the defensiveness played into the discussion afterwards. I thought it could have been an opportunity to see what the true perspectives were, but any sort of questions or criticism were dismissed and not fully delved into.

  16. During our post-show discussion for “How We Got On”, I began to think more deeply about the imagery from the show that I thought was especially striking. For me, one of the most aesthetically captivating scenes of the performance was the scene in which Julian and Hank are standing on top of the water tower; the stage is dark, besides a dim light illuminating the water tower and a red, pulsing bulb (representing the top of the tower) hanging over the heads of the actors. Julian stands up, and everything is quiet as the red bulb keeps pulsing. Finally, he breaks down and lets out all of the frustration, pain and inhibitions he had been holding in, creating his own, personal rap. Upon reflection during our post-show discussion, I realized the kind of significance that this scene could have in connection with some of the other themes and images in the play. For example, as someone mentioned during the post-show discussion, “beat”, specifically the beat of music, is an important concept throughout the play. To me, the image of the red, pulsating light over the water tower works well with this idea of “beat”. Just like the beat of music, the bulb has its own steady beat that it follows. And in some ways, this beating light can be understood to represent the beat of progress, or the beat of hope, or the beat of friendship as it is seen in the scenes involving the water tower. The water tower is a place for the characters to get away from the world, to work through their problems, find their creativity and ultimately grow as friends. It is a place of progress – moving to the silent beat of the red light – and a place to find one’s identity. The pulsating light, always present in these scenes, is yet another beat that drives the characters and the story line forward.

    • Dominic, until the post show discussion, I did not pick up on the common theme of the “beat” throughout the play. Reading your comment though, I realize just how powerful and how consistent it was. The beat was something that linked the play together and helped to tell the story by conveying the emotional state of the characters.
      I also agree that the water tower was a significant place in the story. It was able to help each of the characters grow, one question from the post show discussion that really stuck out to me was when someone asked, “why do we need someone else to make us climb the water tower?” It’s interesting to think that we all have our own personal ‘water towers’ to climb and overcome, but that they help us grow.

    • Dominic, I like how in depth you describe the water tower and its meaning in the play. I didn’t think about it being a place where people could be themselves, but now I see that it was removed from everyday life, and that the characters could escape to there and find themselves. I also like what you said about the pulsating red light. You mentioned the beat during the play, and I realized how important this was to the story. During my personal journey through the story my emotions seemed to fluctuate, and I now realize that these fluctuations tied in closely with the lights and music. This allowed me to better connect with the characters and go through the same emotions that they were going through.

  17. Goodwin’s “How We Got On” is fun, energetic and familiar. As a member of the audience I felt as if I played several roles: a highschooler at a ralley cheering or booing, a sympathetic friend listening to the dreams of stardom, and a concert goer clapping and screaming. I understood the extreme disappointment Hank felt as his opponent is cheered to victory, while he is booed off stage. In junior high, I decided to sing during talent night one summer at camp, but it didn’t go as expected. After transfering to a private highschool, I waited until the last possible day of my senior year to find the courage to sing again in public. Well, let’s just say, I became popular overnight. Can you imagine if I had given up?!

    I am inspired by the determination of Hank, Julian and Luann for persisting towards their dreams as rap artists. It is no easy feat standing up in front of “critics” performing, especially when music is everything that consumes you. As a vocal performer, I understand how much emphasis is placed on perfection: vocal technique, style, body posture, diaphragmatic breathing and eye contact. I applaud these energetic, gifted actors who spent countless hours preparing to make our experience unique and pleasureable.

    The actor who fascinates me most is the Selector. Wow, she is amazing! I could feel her body motions shifting about to take on the role of a different father, and the fluctuation of her tones,usage of particular words and phrases in signifying a different man were absolutely brilliant. The Selector was not merely acting; she was selectively embodying a different persona, which is very effective in my estimation. Switching the brain from one character to another at such a rapid pace has many degrees of difficulty, but the Selector masters them all to perfection.

    You don’t necessarily need to be a lover of rap music to appreciate this style of brilliant, artistic expression. Music has a way of bringing complete strangers together, and “How We Got On” brought the audience together even if for one night. The powerful metaphor that lingers inside my mind is how three complete strangers became more than friends through their willingness to admit that they were incomplete without each other. I like how Goodwin props up Luann’s giftedness as an independent rapper, but in a male dominated industry she still needs to rely on the strength of her male counterparts to achieve her dreams of individualism.

    The lasting memories of this performance I carry close to my heart is the imagery of the sixty-story water towers I have literally seen, and the correlation between that and the effort it takes a dreamer to overcome the fears of taking, sometimes lifethreatening, risks that will free them to see their circumstances from a different vantage point. How much closer would any of them have gotten to their dreams if they had remained rivals? The beauty, for me, is their ability to recognize their strengths\weaknesses, and the reminder on how we can use our giftedness to compliment one another’s successes. And Hank’s unrehearsed smiles during the final performance by the trio were priceless! Whatever made him smile was my reminder to have fun, even if I think I won’t be taken “seriously” if I laugh at myself for my mistakes during my “premiere”. The playwright, Goodwin, the director, Hernandez, the cast: the Selector, Hank, Luann and Julian delivered, and the audience “got it on” too. Great job, everyone!

    I, too, agree with Molly and Anne’s comments about each teen wanting to be “seen” or “acknowledged” by others. And as Molly points out, rap is about the attention-grabbing flash. Even if the viewer’s eye is caught up for a split second as they are flipping through the channels, or their ear picks up a smidgen of lyrical content; rappers demand attention in that moment, and you either listen or turn away. I like how Anne so elloquently states, “we want everyone to realize that we are just as valid as the next person”, and the various forms of music-rap music-gives a “voice to the voiceless”. I agree because music is a common bond shared universally because it speaks to the soul on some level.

  18. What I realized the most with this show was that we watched the show during its previews. Because the audience was so small, it was very hard for me to see what the show was supposed to feel like. Watching it in preview definitely influenced my theatre experience in that I became more supportive of the actors on stage as I tried to fill in the lack of energy from the audience – especially considering that there were moments in this play where it heavily relied on the audience reaction. And so I wonder if my response would have been the norm. Being conscious if my reaction was “normal,” I realized that the energy the audience exchange with the actors on stage is collective and to a degree conformist. I also came to understand that my experience is very dependent on not only what I see on stage but also what I experience with the people in the same space. In other words, the theatre experience the audience is going to get is affected by the very same audience in the house. Having to watch this show in its preview made me realize the power of the audience and how it shapes the theatre experience.

    I didn’t quite understand the discussion we had afterwards. I felt that the production team was telling us what we as an audience was supposed to notice, was supposed to get out of the show only after we watched the show. The discussion emerged as if there was a clear purpose of watching the show – to bring out the old memories we have of true and innocent form of hip-hop. But that’s precisely the opposite of what I felt from the show. I simply didn’t understand the show despite the amazing set design, the lighting design, and the terrific acting. I’m still trying to figure out what I saw and how I should feel about what I saw. I left the theater very confused.

  19. Watching this play was extremely enjoyable for me. First, I thought the entire setup for the production was very engaging. The large, open room allowed for lots of movement by the actors, and the ability for them to walk in and out of the room allowed for seamless transitions. The mini stages were used to highlight certain speeches by the actors, and the water tower and chain link fence gave the audience context for when a scene had shifted to a different location.

    Besides the set, the story was also well done. It took a part of history, which I basically knew nothing about, and made it very accessible. It not only explained the larger context of what was happening, but also described the technology being used at that time. By the end of the production, I not only felt connected to the characters journey, but I also felt I understood the time period and what was happening with music.

    Now, although the set and story line were good, the best part was the actors. I thought they did an excellent job, especially considering they had to walk, talk, sing, rap, and beet box. Combing all of those elements must have been difficult, but they did it wonderfully. And the acting excellence was best displayed by the actor who played the selector. Yes, she had to play a few characters of different genders and voices, but what set her apart were her mannerisms. Her body language changed so drastically with each character, and it allowed her to really sel each role she played. This ensured that there was little to no confusion when she was rapidly switching characters.

    Now, I will say, that for all of the good aspects of the play, I think it was evident that this was a first performance. Some of the interactions, such as characters repeating themselves several times during conversations like in a rap song, were a bit rough. This will certainly be cleaned up as productions progress, and overall I thought this was just a fun piece to watch.

  20. How We Got On was a very informative and different play that I had the pleasure of viewing. I really enjoyed learning about the early development of rap music and the different aspects of it. As someone who doesn’t know much about the topic of hip hop and is only acquainted with the current mainstream music, this play was very valuable and made me think of rap music in a new light. I really loved learning about rap music from the cast in the talkback. All of the cast members talked about the birth of hip hop music with such enthusiasm and depth that it sparked my interest in the matter even further. I really enjoyed hearing about Yo! MTV Raps and the huge influence that it had on the African-American community and on the world in general. I thought it was also quite nice that we were introduced to a different culture and genre; we have seen a lot of plays that focus on Jewish families and to see a different culture was great for me.

    Another aspect of this experience is the interaction with the audience during the play and after the play during the talkback. A couple of my friends and I noticed immediately upon entering the room that the stage was very up close and personal with the audience and we wondered how the characters would use this aspect. Throughout the play, there were numerous times where the characters (especially Luann, Hank and Julian) interacted with the audience whether it was with high fives or just being close to audience members. During the talkback, the man leading the discussion asked the audience to set the chairs in a circle on the stage, which is something that I have never experienced. Sitting on the same level as the cast and directors and discussing the play with them really made me feel like I was a part of the play. The talkback and the play seemed to introduce the audience to the hip hop family because the atmosphere as a whole was very welcoming.

    For me, the plot of the play was not so much as important as what was learned from the play in terms of the birth of rap music.

  21. Idris Goodwin’s How We Got On touched on many themes of young adolescence: growing up, relationships with parents, discovering independence and realizing passion. The reoccurring theme of authenticity resonated with me throughout the play. The setting of a relatively well off suburb of Chicago was constantly in conflict with the authenticity of their music. Rap from the suburbs did not resonate with listeners in The City. Constantly throughout the play the characters turn to The City for validation of their identities despite growing up in The Hill, such as the scene at basketball camp when Julian and Hank size each other up based on the neighborhoods they’re affiliated with in The City or when Julian recounts the negative reception of their mix tape from his friends in The City.

    We have spent a lot of time discussing relatability this semester, and this production left me thinking quite a bit about my own high school experience. In high school, adults are constantly trying to relate to kids using cultural references they think will catch kids attention. I remember one teacher who rapped about world history to try to engage with and relate to kids. Some times these efforts paid off, and sometimes they failed miserably when they felt inauthentic and awkward.

    I came into How We Got On with the same skepticism that I viewed my teacher rapping about world history. During the Selector’s initial monologue, I was convinced that I was about to sit through 90 minutes of uninterrupted, inauthentic bullshit. However, I was surprised by how much I ended up relating to the play, and how authentic the struggle of these kids felt. I ended up really enjoying the Selector, in fact I thought she stole the show. I was impressed with the shows authenticity that was able to crack through the suspicious lens I started out with.

  22. The first thing that stuck out to me in this play was how close we were the stage. The seats were right up to the platforms the actors performed on were just inches away from our faces. It really helped to make me feel like we were engaged in and a part of the performance.

    Another thing that I enjoyed about this play was the way that music and the hip hop spirit was incorporated throughout. One way this was shown was when the characters would repeat themselves multiple times so that it sounded like their conversations were being scratched on a turn table. The musical theme was also heavily represented in the character of the Selector. Her presence made it clear that this whole show was about the music. She is telling the story of these artists, and it is clear that their stories and their music mean a lot to her, and therefore they mean a lot to us as the audience. I liked how she set the stage for the various events in the play and kept us informed about some of the smaller details we may not have been familiar with, like explaining what the drum machine they were trying to win was.

    One powerful aspect of this production was that all of the characters were desperately trying to be heard. Hip Hop was there way of venting their frustrations and spreading their joy with the world. I really related to their struggle of feeling like they had something important to say, but not having any one to listen to it. Another important theme I noticed was teamwork. Alone, this group was nowhere near as powerful as when they finally united and put each of heir individual skills together. I really enjoyed the informal and comfortable setting of this play and of the post show discussion.

Comments are closed.