Hip Hop Theatre Masterpiece: Penn State’s School of Theatre Perform “I.D.”

Photo by Susannah Foos

Lights. Beats. Rap. Hip Hop. The first few seconds of I.D. will have you on the edge of your seat.

I.D. is the first show of the season for Penn State’s School of Theatre. Written by New York playwright NSangou Nijkam and directed by Penn State Theatre Professor Steve Broadnax, I.D. is a story about cultural identity and the problems that individuals must face because of race’s role in society and culture.

The character Helix, played by third-year MFA Actor Marco Muñoz, has created a DNA test that can trace cultural origins —down to the most specific percentages. After Helix debuts the test on the news, everyone is so intrigued by the discovery that they test themselves. Drama between characters follows the news report creating many subplots within the plot of identity.

I.D. is engaging from the very instant you step foot into the theatre. DJ Super Nova, a musician from New York, spins crowd-pleasing beats and generates hype similar to a raging frat party on a Friday night. The show runs under two hours but never contains a lagging moment. The actors successfully keep their audience engaged wondering what might happen next.

It is worth mentioning, however, that I.D. is not a “happy-happy-joy-joy” kind of play. Underlying the play’s funny and witty moments is drama. Couples fight, friendships end, and lives are put at risk. Interracial relationships, police brutality — similar to Ferguson, and bi-racial individuals all fall into play within I.D.

Valley had the opportunity to chat with a member of the cast and crew of I.D. — actor Vaughn Kelsey Davis —, a third year MFA candidate at Penn State — who plays Vince, and Penn State alumnus DJ Super Nova — a professional DJ musician. DJ Super Nova is the DJ for performances of I.D. he provides background music to amplify the play.

Valley: What does Hip Hop mean to you and how did you infuse it into your performance?

DJ Super Nova: “Hip Hop — graffiti, MC’ing, break dancing, DJ’ing, fashion – is a form of expression that demonstrates the current events in the community. As the DJ for the play, I’m the first point of contact with the audience and through music as well as call and response I assist in setting the tone along with enabling them to feel comfortable with the play’s level of interaction. Additionally, utilizing my experience in Hip Hop Theatre provides me the skills to weave scenes seamlessly through my musical styling.”

Vaughn Kelsey Davis: “First off, Hip Hop and rap are two different things. By that I mean, rapping is only one element. Hip-Hop is self- transformation and the pursuit of self-expression. It is a grass roots art movement that most get confused with just rapping. It begins as an awareness that helps us to change and transform subjects and objects. MCing, Break Dancing, DJing, graffiti art (study of color, light and dimension) and storytelling. An ancient African art form told around the fires of the compound. Hip-Hop is only about 40 years old and it is the most ground breaking and globally influential art form the modern world has ever seen. I believe that’s because it is rooted in giving a voice to those who have nothing. So with the character Vince, it was easy to incorporate Hip Hop, first because it is what I grew up on and second because I’ve studied the science of the art movement. Vince has to constantly express and define his very existence to those who either see him as confused or has no identity. I am bi-racial as well so I’ve had many similar hardships as the character Vince. Vince in I.D. finds his voice through Hip Hop and it is finding his voice he is able to pursue transform and self-expression that in turn transforms subjects and objects used to define a bi-racial person.”

Valley: How do you think I.D. will attract non-theatre goers?

DJ Super Nova: “As hip hop theater emerges and establishes itself, it serves as a great platform for non-theatre goers to familiarize themselves with the culture of theatre. Hip hop is a genre that is cross-cultural and highly influential in American culture therefore ID is an opportunity for hip hop connoisseur to experience theatre through this context and median.”

Vaughn Kelsey Davis: “My generation is called the Millennials, scientists deem us the enlightened generation or the ‘civic-minded’ generation. We have the technology and the knowledge accessible to us that the previous generations didn’t have, but still it seems that we can’t properly connect with each other. That’s because the systems of power that are in place and the few wealthy elite who control it are still operating on an out of date rubric that doesn’t adhere to this generation. That’s where I.D. comes into play, because its basis is Hip-Hop a grass roots artistic movement that seeks to help the voiceless individual pursue transformation and self- expression. It brings the old phrase ‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure,’ to a whole new light.”

Valley: Where did you tour with I.D.? How did your touring influence your performance?

Vaughn Kelsey Davis: “So, Far we have toured the Show in South Africa; Cape Town, Gramstown and Johannesburg.”

Valley: What steps did you take to immerse yourself into your character?

Vaughn Kelsey Davis: “Becoming Vince was one of the most liberating experiences I’ve ever has playing a character. Personally, I was able to connect with him being bi-racial and hated by both black and white for just existing. So in that since it was easy to fall right into the character. Usually, the mixed person is the elephant in the room that no one talks about and is expected not to speak, but in this piece it does speak. Vince is one physical manifestation of a revolution because he proves that there is only one race, the human race. That instead of mixing being a regression it can be a bridge to cross both worlds.”

Valley: How did you choose the music for I.D.?

DJ Super Nova: “I joined the team towards the later part of production therefore I was in a position to provide alternative song suggestions for certain scenes as needed. In working with the director, I focused more so on maximizing my DJ skills to assist with transitions to better support the structure of the play.”

Valley: How do you think your DJ-ing amplified the performance?

DJ Super Nova: “DJ’ing supports the fast pace of the play which allows the continued engagement of the audience from start to finish.”


I.D. will leave you with a grander appreciation for Hip Hop and a burning question about your identity. If you aren’t a fan of theatre but appreciate Hip Hop and music, go see it.

I.D. will be playing at the Downtown Theatre on Allen Street from September 8-20. Tickets are $16 and can be purchased at the Arts Ticket Center at Eisenhower Auditorium, Penn State Tickets Downtown, Bryce Jordan Center Ticket Window, or HUB Outlet.
Fun fact: I.D. created the idea of “zumyoga” which is a combination of yoga and Zumba!