On the Fringe

"Because I like rap and I like musicals."

That's how actress Chelsea Dygan paraphrased Orlando hip hop artist Isaac Knox's interest in writing the music for the new musical, Lil' Women, inspired by the 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott (and/or the 1994 movie). 

Lil' Woman Chelsea Dygan with Lil' Men Max Hilend & Jim Doyle
Chelsea plays beloved Beth March in the new musical, which is currently showing at the Orlando Fringe Festival. She said she was impressed by first time writer/director/producer Lindsay M. Taylor's ability to bring it all together 

Lindsay (my friend & former college roomie) said the idea came to her at 2011's Fringe:

Two Jersey gals who went to school in Delaware and now live in FL.
It's a small, lovely world. 
I got the idea for the "rapsical" as I like to call it, when leaving Chase Padgett's show last year.  I felt so inspired after watching it, I turned to my friend and declared that she would see me here next year, and with a rap musical. 
Over the summer I did tons of research on rap artists, songs, the history but then I had to focus my attention onto what the show would be about.  My favorite book of all time is Little Women, and it just popped into my brain and I haven't looked back since. It's different, it's heartfelt, it's two different worlds that in every sense of the way do not belong together, but when you leave the show it's such a natural mixing of the two that you almost don't realize that the characters are performing these very complicated songs. 
None of my cast are rap artists, they are simply people who wanted to step out of their comfort zone, be challenged and really go for it. As with me. I've never produced, directed or written a show in my life, but the opportunity was there and I thought, if I ask the right people, and the right questions and put my ego to the side if I need help, this really could be a unique project. 
Luckily I have a great team co-writing Sara Stock and Rebecca Siegel, and of course this show would not exist without the amazing writing of Isaac Knox.
As of this past January Lindsay still didn't have the music done for her musical, so she went to hip hop night at Austin's Coffee in Winter Haven for insight:  
Isaac's biggest fans: dad Pete, sis Tessa & mom Lisa at opening night

The mission in going was to watch how they freestyle rap, watch the performance aspect, talk to people about what the music means to them. 
Lindsay with Isaac
Isaac literally walked up to Rebecca and I, introduced himself and mentioned that he had never seen us there before. We said we were writing a rap musical and wanted to come for inspiration.
After explaining the concept of the show, Isaac immediately said that he loved theatre and obviously loves to rap so if we needed any help to let him know.  
The rest is history, unfortunately he is on tour with his group The King's Offspring, but he's with us in spirit.  I think the most common misconception about this show is that people think it's going to be jokey and the raps are going to be something simple and flatlined, but it's not. It's real and endearing and even heartbreaking at times. 

On a slightly related note, there's an excellent conversation on Bill Moyers' website with Jeff Chang on his new book Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation.   I can't say that I'm a big fan of hip hop, but I am a fan of learning about what life is all about, from beauty to beastly injustices, and hip hop, like most honest art, embodies the spectrum. 
The interview with Jeff, the executive director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts + Committee on Black Performing Arts at Stanford University, ties together some of my favorite things: media reform & consolidation, and art & media as vehicles for social change:
One story that’s well known in certain hip hop circles, but it’s not as well known in the general public, is the story of this artist named Hamada Ben AmorJust after the shopkeeper in Tunisia set himself on fire, Amor began making a bunch of underground mix tapes and songs, and one of them was called “Head of State.” The lyric literally went, “President, your people are dying,” and it was a huge protest against the regime. This song passed hand to hand all through the cities around Tunisia and became one of the fires that lit the Arab Spring...It may sound stunning, but this is, again, the power of culture, and another lesson in the virality of music, that something can catch fire so quickly and lead to this dramatic turn of events that’s earth shattering. 

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