Young actor brings gritty, soulful theater to Sunset Center.
Thursday, January 8, 1998
"I''m an actor in the ancient sense of the word," says Danny Hoch. "Ancient actors were educators, social critics, politicians, shamans-all those things. Provocateurs."
Hoch, who won an Obie Award for his solo show Some People, is bringing Evolution of a Homeboy: Jails, Hospitals and Hip Hop, his most recent creation, to the Sunset Center on Saturday.
As in Some People, in Evolution Hoch portrays a number of different characters, from a honky Montana "got the ghetto in my soul" burger flipper who wants to be a rapper, to a rap legend who''s livin'' large and trying to justify himself to David Letterman, to an AIDS-infected prisoner, to a guy who''s arrested for selling illegal reproductions of Bart Simpson T-shirts. For all the differences between the characters, though, there is one underlying theme.
As the Oakland Tribune put it, "The subtitle of Hoch''s show, Jails, Hospitals & Hip Hop, serves as a description of how its characters are confined. Some are physically impaired. Some, like the guy nabbed for selling Bart Simpson and OJ Simpson T-shirts without a license, are doing time, while others, like Caucasian rapper MC Enough, are imprisoned in the music, violence and drug culture of the hip-hop world."
Audiences accustomed with proper theater with proper scripts and proper language may find Hoch''s assessment of himself to be less than acceptable. The heart of Hoch''s shows pump to the hip hop rhythms of marginalized cultures in the United States. And like hip hop music, the show simmers with anger and profanity. We''re not talking Neil Simon or Stephen Sondheim here.
And that''s the point.
Hoch says he isn''t looking to create feel-good theater, or theater that can be forgotten when audiences crawl into their cars at the end of the show.
"What I want to do is commit the act of theater," says Hoch, "to make people responsible, to put the onus on the audience. To educate, to make people uncomfortable at the same time they are laughing. To create social cohesion. To reflect and respond to my generation and community that are not responded to in mainstream media.
"When you look at TV or film or theater, the only characters that are reflected in three dimensional form are upper middle class caucasians who live in no-man''s land. The suburbs? I''m not exactly sure. Those of us whose cultures originate from other cultures, with other means and geographies, where we are reflected is on the periphery of a story line. Or if we are in the middle of the story line, we are reflected in one dimension."
According to Hoch, that lack of representation on stage and screen is reflected in audience demography. He says he was disappointed when he first started touring and found that his audiences were primarily upper middle-class, middle-age white people who have little connection to the hip hop generation. In short, he wasn''t seeing his peers in the audience.
"Now, I demand that my venues take great pains to get young people to the theater, and people who are not invited. In New York, I''m doing something that''s really kind of revolutionary."
Hoch says he had producers in New York lined up who were willing to front big bucks for Hoch''s show there. For most young performers (Hoch is 26) that would be enough to clinch a deal with no questions asked. But when Hoch found out where the money was coming from, he walked.
"I had producers who came up with $300,000. But it turns out they were charging $35 for tickets. Who can afford $35? Not my kind of people...Theater isn''t this high-brow, high culture thing. I''m trying to have $10 tickets by not having advertising in The New York Times or even Village Voice." Instead, Hoch says, he''ll use flyers and posters to reach out in neighborhoods with ZIP codes that are usually ignored by more traditional productions.
Since opening the show last October at Berkeley Repertory, Hoch''s taken Evolution on the road, fine-tuning it, and getting it ready for its New York opening in late spring. If critics are any judge of a performance''s merit, it sounds like the show is damn near ready already.
The real question is, are Carmel audiences ready for Danny Hoch? cw