Backstage: ‘Liner Notes’ by Paige Hernandez

Paige Hernandez, a Baltimore native and major artistic hyphenate — she’s a writer-performer­choreographer-educator, and a hip-hop advocate, and that’s an abbreviated list — scribbled two words on a piece of paper: “liner notes.”

She was thinking about her next move. She’d done her one-woman show, “Paige in Full,” a few times before, most recently in 2011 at the Intersections Festival on H Street. But for 2012, “I didn’t want to tap out my audience and do that show again,” she said. “So I thought, what would I like to see? And it occurred to me that I’d really like to see live hip-hop music with trained musicians — trained in jazz and classical music. And hip-hop is based in sampling, in taking from other songs, and I wanted to explore that.”

  • ( Ian McKellar / ) - Paige Hernandez in her production “Liner Notes.”
  • ( Cameron Whitman / ) - The Keegan Theatre celebrates the backbone of America in “Working - A Musical.”

( Ian McKellar / ) - Paige Hernandez in her production “Liner Notes.”

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The end result is the hip-hop theater event “Liner Notes,” which had its premiere at the 2012 Intersections Festival and will be produced at the Dunes from April 25 to 28. “You see poetry, monologues, projection, music,” Hernandez said. She, along with the lead performers (Akua Allrich, Baye Harrell and Hernandez’s husband, Kris Funn), came up with a playlist for the show, researched those albums, and found “some really dope liner notes and structured the show around that,” Hernandez said.

“When you got a record back in the day, you actually read the liner notes while you listened to the record,” said Hernandez, who, like the rest of her band, grew up in the 1980s. “The artist could really transport you.”

During the show, with the backing of the Corner Store Jazz Quintet, “we read the actual liner notes: the words of Herbie Hancock, Parliament Funkadelic, Chaka Khan, James Brown,” she said, mixing the older tracks with modern hits such as Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Otis,” and then the performers “share personal moments in out lives when we realized we were in love with the music from the past.”

“We want elevated art for the hip-hop generation,” said Hernandez. “Hip-hop shows don’t have to dumb things down for the audience. They don’t have to be negative. They don’t have to focus on the commercial side of hip-hop. It can be a multi-generational, multi-cultural, multi-genre experience. I like to look into the crowd and see the most diverse crowd, ever.”

April 25-28, the Dunes, 1402 Meridian Pl. NW, upstagedc.com, 202-436-9118.

Forum’s 2012-13 season

Forum Theatre’s upcoming season is taking on issues of biblical proportions: sex and death, flood and war, crime and chaos. And that’s just the first three plays.

The first, “Holly Down in Heaven,” opens in September. It’s a world premiere by Kara Lee Corthron and will be directed by Michael Dove. Holly is a teenage, born-again Christian who becomes pregnant and banishes herself to her basement, where she has only dolls to keep her company.

The Iraq war drama “9 Circles” follows in January. The plot concerns a soldier who is honorably discharged from service but who, after heading back home to Texas, wakes up in a jail cell and finds himself on trial for war crimes. The play is by Bill Cain (who wrote “Equivocation”) and will be directed by Jennifer L. Nelson.

The season’s third play, which opens in May 2013, also hinges on the aftermath of a tragedy. “Clementine in the Lower 9,” by Dan Dietz, follows a family’s efforts to reunite and rebuild nine months after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and forced them apart.

The season closer, in August 2013, is a play to be written by Natsu Onoda Power, who has worked as a set designer at Forum before (for “bobrauschenberg­america” and “Mad Forest”) and who recently created and directed “Astro Boy and the God of Comics” at Studio’s 2ndStage. “We’re getting to experiment a bit more,” said Dove, Forum’s artistic director. “We’ve given the reins over [to Power]. . . . I think she can do no wrong.”

‘Working’ at the Keegan

There’s something ironic about producing a show called “Working” at a time when the number of Americans out of work is the highest since the Great Depression. “It seemed like an interesting question,” said Shirley Serotsky, who is directing the musical at the Keegan Theatre. “How would a show all about defining yourself by your job, or being defined by other people by what you do, play at a time when more people in this country are dealing with what it means to lack that definition?”

The play, said Serotsky, “gives voice to the person whose story we don’t usually hear. . . . We don’t see a lot of plays about truck drivers [or] waitresses. These are the people we interact with everyday, but it’s not a cultural norm to deem those stories as important enough to be told on the stage.”

What “Working” does is pluck those characters out of the Bruce Springsteen songs where they’ve been hanging around since the ’80s and set them smack at center stage. When the economy is low, interest in those stories is high. With “the Occupy movement . . . it seems, in this country, that the tolerance for [these stories] has flipped over and we’ve said, ‘No, this story is important, too,’ ” said Serotsky.

The cast originally worked with the 1999 version of the show, which is based on Studs Terkel’s best-selling book of interviews, and found it had “frustrating anachronisms,” said Serotsky. “You talk about a pay phone and immediately people are going to step out and say, ‘C’mon, a pay phone?” They negotiated to get the 2009 edition instead. “It was really important to me that it didn’t feel like a period piece.”

Through May 13, 1742 Church St. NW, keegantheatre.com, 703-892-0202.

 
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