Bring the Beat Back, an original play written and directed by Derek McPhatter, was a two-night performance shown at the Jack Theatre in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of north Brooklyn. In recent years, large portions of north Brooklyn have been heavily gentrified. Areas in which previously existed quaint, locally-owned businesses have been bought out by large corporations, followed by skyrocketing rent and an influx of affluent white residents. The Jack Theatre is resistant in that it provides a low-cost space for artists to produce and show original works in a city in which venues oftentimes charge steep prices just to be rented. Knowing that this theater is located in a neighborhood that is driving out local business, places like The Jack have trouble holding on, yet its commitment to provide access to the arts and involve the community have made it popular enough to survive in the short time it has been around.
The play itself offered mixed messages, but proved to be defiant mostly in form and story line. As Derek himself noted when visiting our class, not many “queer, black, sci-fi music-theater” experiences exist. Derek defied theatrical norms by catering the storyline to his own personal interests and experiences, rather than creating a story the audience would easily understand. It is not common to weave so many layers of complexity into a character’s development in theater, especially in a one hour long piece still under development.
Another way in which Bring the Beat Back defied theatrical norms was in its relationship to musical theater. Traditional musicals have choreographed numbers, BTBB featured a dance party at the beginning and end of the play. The music choice was also unusual- the style of music often in musical theater has become its own genre due to the similarities in structure across the board of every hit musical. Instead of sticking to the upbeat, high-pitched style readily found on Broadway, Derek chose to incorporate soul, funk, and house beats- genres we typically associate with informal, private gatherings rather than formal, high-class theater. In this way, he adapted the music to fit the Afrofuturist setting of his play instead of conforming to a rigid style that did not represent the story he wanted to portray.