Q Brothers’ “Funk It Up About Nothin'” becoming a quick classic

DINGLEBERRY I’m no philosopher. But I love my life as an ociffer. Nobody else could play my game. So come on boys!


DINGLEBERRY And say my name!

It wasn’t until after the initial performances of the Q Brothers’ rap-adaptations that I first began blogging here at BiteThumbnails. However, while I have been unable to catch any remounting of The Bomb-itty of Errors, I did get into a performance of the world premiere of Funk It Up About Nothin’ back in 2008 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Back then, I attended it with a friend and fellow Shakespeare-buff. We loved it so much, that I made sure to take my boyfriend this time around. We made a Sunday matinee: our audience was predominantly the young adult (18-35) demographic the theatre industry is quite starved for, which made for a riveting performance that successfully elicited the types of audience engagements for which its referentiality was constructed.

The cast (from left to right): DJ Sanchez, Jillian Burfete, Ericka Ratcliff, GQ, Postell Pringle, JQ, and Jackson Doran.

Nearly the entire original cast returned for the remounting, all but Elizabeth Leno as Hero, who was replaced by Jillian Burfete. Every pulls double and triple duty in this production, even its writers GQ and JQ. The play is only 90 minutes and depends on the Renaissance original practice of continuous action; the action moves very quickly and costume changes happen fast. However, the quick costume changes intend for you to be aware of their artifice, suggesting that the play does not intend for its audience to be tricked, confused, or befuddled in any way. Similarly, the bright and gleeful set design echoes an urban aesthetic but does not try to be a student-only or arts-education production, refusing to dumb-down the narrative tensions or explicit elements (a blow-up doll is involved).

Despite it’s specific rap aesthetic, this adaptation seems to encourage variable interpretations. Versification is the word, here. A live DJ that works to compliment rather than overwhelm or distract. There is a healthy does of Shakespeare in the text (30% at the least) but it blends in so well with the rap aesthetic that its appropriation doesn’t jar the listener out of the fiction of the play. In fact, my boyfriend didn’t think any of the original lines from Much Ado About Nothing had made it in until we discussed it afterward. This quality–playing to an audience (emphasizing the “auditory” aspect) rather than spectators–is what makes this an adaptation rather than an appropriation.

What I mean by this is that the play doesn’t merely adopt bits and scraps of Shakespeare’s work, but uses elements of the early modern dramatic genre and concepts to create something new, but which can trace an evolutionary trajectory backwards to the bard. For example, like Shakespeare’s poetic verse, rap’s meaning is also dependent on the co-dependence of form and meaning. Verse and rap both pack performative meaning, so while the performance is multi-sensory, a player’s ability to enact (or act upon) the meaning in his lines is as important as those lines in order to convey meaning. If ever there was an actual court case for the merits of rap as a form of poetry, this play would be the first piece of evidence presented to the jury.

Rap effective links with the Shakespearean tradition not only in its linguistic qualities. It also signifies an entire performative tradition, culture, and history. (For more on this, see James Petersen’s article, here.) There is a specific fashion aesthetic and body lexicon from which to draw that gives the play it’s own richness, rather than simply being entrenched in the Renaissance. While it complements the early modern dramatic form in this plurality of significations, Funk can also stand on its own feet independent of the source playtext. It is this double valence–to be enjoyable with and without direct implications of Shakespeare–that suggests this production has only just begun what is likely to be a successful tour.

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