The Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives (OMAI) hosted the 13th Annual Line Breaks Festival last week featuring performances, lectures, and discussions by First Wave student scholars, alumni and invited professional artists.
“I think Line Breaks is unique. I think First Wave is unique to provide these scholarships to such incredible artists,” Line Breaks Curator and Director Kamal Smith said.
Whether sitting through a comedic play entitled “The Help” by Jasmine Kiah or listening to Francisco Velazquez talk about his experiences working with migrants on the Southern U.S.- Mexico border, Line Breaks 2019 offered audience members a wide range of programming including flash talks, theatrical performances, poetry readings, a visual arts showcase and a full blown concert. Through the work presented on stage, it became clear the First Wave program embodies all three of its pillars; Academics, Arts and Activism.
“Line Breaks offers space for incredible and important stories. Line Breaks explores new work in the world of Hip Hop theatre and theatre in verse and continues to be an incredible display of community, activism and art,” First Wave alumnus and Line Breaks Director Karl Iglesias said.
The festival kicked off Wednesday, April 3 with a documentary on Black motherhood presented by Tiffany Ike and ended with a First Wave Music Showcase featuring performers Synovia Alexis, Basi and Bear in the Forest. In five days, over twenty artists and performers graced the stage of the Play Circle Theatre in Memorial Union.
Smith refers to himself as “old school” hailing from Detroit, the “Motor City” known for Big Sean, Eminem and Motown. He said rappers like First Wave Scholar Obasi, whose style reflects his upbringing in Oakland, have something to say. Smith called Line Breaks 2019 “bigger and better.”
“I think what I love coming from Detroit to Madison is hearing their version … a different style of Hip Hop is amazing. It’s like, whoa. I think that the originality they put on their work is so intriguing. It pulls me in,” he said.
Smith also recognizes the family aspect of First Wave. On stage, First Wavers would often refer to each other as “brother” or “sister,” enlisting other scholars to help them perform their set or sing background.
“On this Line Breaks, this is my first solo show and I was accompanied by my friends Solomon and Jasmine. I feel really strongly about it and I feel like I created this type of form through everything I like and it was very cohesive,” First Wave Student and Performer Dequadray White said.
White’s performance “Love U(s) first,” directed by Artistic Director of the First Wave Hip Hop Theater Ensemble Chris Walker, explores his new outlook on life after a near-death experience. His performance invites audiences into his relationships between his family, men and himself.
In over a decade, dozens of students have enrolled at the University of Wisconsin- Madison for the nation’s premier Hip Hop Arts Scholarship program. Many alumni have gone on to pursue careers as educators, community organizers, performers, journalists, actors, authors and much more.
“It’s been incredibly full circle. Just 10 years ago I was able to premiere my one person show at Line Breaks with help from my mentors Chris Walker and Rafael Casal. The opportunity to make a lasting impact as a mentor wasn’t lost on me and was something I took very seriously,” Iglesias said.
He worked with a variety of Line Breaks performers this year including Jamie Dawson, Ricardo Cortez de La Cruz, Solomon Roller and alumn James D. Gavins. While Iglesias has worked with these artists for months helping them craft their shows for the festival, for some of them this is just the beginning. Dawson said Line Breaks is like a testing ground for artists to share their work with the community.
When First Wave alumna Dawson heard the call for performers she decided to perform a show of her own. At the time, she was still a student at the University of Wisconsin- Madison but after graduating in December she performed her first solo show “Feast of Flowers” last week.
“At the time, I wanted to talk about pushback against colorblindness in this world but I ended up in my free time just writing a different piece about what America might look like as a Spanish speaking and English speaking place, a bilingual place,” she said.
Throughout the last few months, Dawson worked with Iglesias on script editing for the piece. She said bringing her full self to the performance through the writing and concepting felt beautiful. Dawson hopes to build and create with other First Wavers in the future.
“I’m so excited to be apart of this festival and break the stage with so many dope people who are doing so many combinations of things and exploring the craft,” she said.
Dawson and Gavins both said a lot of materials from their shows were omitted to fit into the 30-45 minute performances for the festival. Gavins said he would potentially perform an hour long version of his piece Cicada, a Sci-Fi thriller based on the idea of reparations for Black people. Audience members even engaged in intellectual dialogue in a talkback moderated by Iglesias.
“Our biggest goal was to start conversation and to get our audience to do that,” he said.
In addition to dialogue, audience members learned about scholars’ work within the community and volunteer opportunities. Ike announced the launch of an arts magazine named “Emeka” focused on women of color in Summer 2019.
Community members were also invited to participate in a special Line Breaks edition Just Bust! Writing Workshop facilitated by First Wave alumna Thiahera Nurse, a movement workshop led by Gavins and an industry workshop with UW- Madison alumnus and director and choreographer Frank Gatson Jr. who served as Creative Director for Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé and others.
“Last year, I had a chance to direct a lot of musical showcases, which was great, and this year was more diverse, where I got to direct both musical and theatrical, which are both my background and just seeing everything as a whole as a curator,” Smith said.
He enjoyed sitting back to watch other directors work with talented artists. Smith said Line Breaks 2019 brought something both new and unique to the stage.