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Shakin’ up Shakespeare

by Taylor Blumer | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Theatre | September 10th, 2015

Devon Glover has played many parts in his time. But this Friday, Sept. 11, the New York-based educator/performer/artist will come to the Rourke Art Museum as The Sonnet Man, introducing the F-M community to a whole new way of thinking about Shakespeare.

As The Sonnet Man, Glover engages people through hip hop and spoken word to renew excitement and interest in Shakespeare and literature. Glover takes the 400-year-old early modern English verse and repackages it for the modern age with the help of hip-hop.

The event will be free and open to the public. It will also serve as the kick-off for the museum’s new educational series, in which artists will give free workshops to the public.

“This is going to be one in a series of upcoming events based on a wide range of topics geared toward kids, young adults and adults,” says Jacinta Macheel Zens, educational program consultant at the Rourke. “I think it sets a good tone as a high-quality, non-traditional art performance.”

The High Plains Reader contacted Glover to discuss his work as The Sonnet Man and what people can expect to see at the Rourke this Friday.

HPR: The idea behind the Sonnet Man originated with Broadway playwright Arje Shaw. Could you elaborate a little about where the idea stems from, and how and when you became involved?

Devon Glover: A few years before we started, I was working with another hip-hop educational company. Arje had the idea of putting Shakespeare's sonnets on top of music. He tried a few genres and decided to explore some more. We crossed paths and began exploring the idea and the impact Shakespeare's words to hip-hop music would work in theaters and schools. We came up with the concept of The Sonnet Man and the rest is history.

HPR: You must have an extensive knowledge of Shakespeare and his sonnets. Has Shakespeare been a major interest for you for a long time?

DG: I actually am still learning more and more Shakespeare each and every day. He has a lot of work to study. The reason why I decided to choose this project is because as a student I wasn't that interested in Shakespeare. It wasn't until I was asked by a teacher to help out with “Othello” that I heard a connection to Shakespeare and hip-hop. I always think back to my experience when I was in high school, and I want to provide a better experience for my students. I thought the students would get a better feel of Shakespeare if it was introduced and taught in a special, innovative way. I became a fan of the Bard after that unique teaching experience.

HPR: Do you work solely with Shakespearean sonnets or do you incorporate material from his plays as well?

DG: I have been asked to make musical annotations of Shakespeare's plays. The first music video that I released as The Sonnet Man was Hip-Hop Hamlet ("To be, or not to be..."). I've also been asked to act in some Shakespeare plays, write musical translations for Shakespeare's works for theaters and help create musical scripts for theaters and schools.

HPR: What are some of the similarities between Shakespeare’s verse and hip-hop lyrics?

DG: The main trait in Shakespeare's work that connects with hip-hop is his use of rhyme. He also writes in meters, which makes it easy to put behind a contemporary hip-hop beat. The way he's able to write a story in a rhythm reminds me of several of my favorite rappers.

HPR: What can people expect from the event at the Rourke?

DG: I plan on providing a couple examples of what I perform as The Sonnet Man. The audience will hear Shakespeare's words behind a contemporary beat, followed by a modernized translation of his words written by myself. I will also provide a couple of personal numbers to show a different side of conscious hip-hop. There will be a Q&A session after the performance.

HPR: Why do you feel it's important to keep alive an appreciation and enthusiasm for Shakespeare?

DG: Shakespeare has stood the test of time. He is in movies, theaters, schools and in our everyday language. Students of the world usually see his work before they graduate high school. The Sonnet Man is another way of keeping Shakespeare up with the times. He's not going anywhere, and I'm sure in a hundred years, his work will get adapted in the latest trend again.

HPR: Do you have any favorite Shakespearean sonnets or specific lines from his plays?

DG: My favorite sonnet is Sonnet 130, because of the many themes. My favorite Shakespeare quote is from “As You Like It”: "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

IF YOU GO

The Sonnet Man at the Rourke

Friday, Sept. 11 at 7 p.m.

Rourke Art Museum, 521 Main Ave., Moorhead

Free

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