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The tale is timeless, but the beat that reverberated from Connecticut College's Tansill Theater this weekend was completely contemporary. "I <3 Juliet," an original hip-hop musical inspired by Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," premiered during Fall Weekend as the first of four yearly main stage Department of Theater plays.
Written and directed by The Q Brothers while the company was in residence at the College, the play featured an original script rapped over a series of original beats that provided the musical backdrop for the performance.
"The entire form of hip-hop theater is dazzling," said Visiting Assistant Professor of Theater Nancy Hoffman, who first brought the Q Brothers to campus in February with funding from a Sherman Fairchild Foundation grant for a two-day hip-hop theater workshop. "The combination of poetry, pathos and wit, all over a beat that just doesn't let up - these ingredients make for an electrifying show. With the Q Brothers, the end result is a supercharged version of the Bard that you both recognize and see through new lenses."
The Q Brothers - GQ and JQ Qaiyum, along with company members Jackson Doran and Postell Pringle - have gained prominence in the theater world for their "ad-rap-tations" of well-known Shakespeare plays like "The Comedy of Errors" (re-envisioned as "The Bomb-itty of Errors") and "Much Ado About Nothing" ("Funk it Up About Nothin'").
This past spring, the group was commissioned to write and perform a new take on Othello for the Globe to Globe Festival as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. The show they created - "Othello: The Remix" - played to rave reviews and went on to win Best New Musical and Best Lyrics at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
With generous support from the Dayton Artist-in-Residence program - which brings professional artists and performers to the College to teach and collaborate with students - the Q Brothers arrived on campus again in early September to begin work on the yet-unnamed adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.
After selecting a cast of 10 students, the Q Brothers began the rehearsal process with an ensemble reading of Shakespeare's original play, theater exercises, scene work and "cyphers" - freestyle circles in which cast members improvised rhymes to a beat. Q Brothers company member Postelle Pringle said these exercises gave the artists a glimpse into the personality of each actor, which they then incorporated into the script.
"We discovered a lot of the individual talents of the cast," Pringle said. "We picked up little things about them through the process."
With only four weeks to write and rehearse a fast-paced, complicated text, the Q Brothers admired the focus and enthusiasm of the students.
"They're amazing," Pringle said. "They're like sponges - they soak up everything. So talented, affable, open, willing to work, courageous - they've been a joy to work with."
Associate Professor of Theater and department chair David Jaffe '77 applauded the energy and dedication of the Q Brothers.
"They really work as a team, all directing at the same time," said Jaffe, who will direct an adaptation of Sophocles' "Antigone" for the department this fall. "It's an incredibly dynamic atmosphere, and it's clear that they've worked together so much that they speak with one voice. It made rehearsal a very exciting thing to watch."
The Q Brothers' work on campus sparked excitement for the process of creating something from the ground up.
"We're already talking about writing another show in this style," says cast member Leila Teitelman '15, a theater major. "The Q Brothers inspired us so much. We have all these projects we want to do now, and they all stem from this experience."