Urban Drama and your Thoughts
This week we are looking at the rise of Urban Drama in Theatre and Film in America.
The Dictionary defines Urban as:
ur·ban [ur-buhn] adjective
2. living in a city.
3. characteristic of or accustomed to cities; citified: an urban type.
This definition is a good starting place to understand the background for where these kinds of stories, characters and issues that Urban Drama comes from and adresess but, we must look a little deeper and wrestle with the issues and themes of these characters as well, not just location. The location(s), in an abstract sense, is a through line for much of this genre and where these characters reside and live but it is the circumstances, relationships and conflicts that arise out of living in highly populated, lower scale communities suffering from crime, gangs, drugs, blight, and poverty that drive the force of the drama in these stories. The drama and conflict can be quite intense within the scope of this Genre. We also see that Urban Drama does not lay claim to any one specific ethnic background. So much of Urban Drama looks at communities of all races who share in similar circumstances be it Latino communities, Black communities, various Asian neighborhoods, White communities, or a sub community within the larger groups mentioned. Urban Drama discusses issues of race, poverty, crime, drugs, upward social mobility, institutional racism, sexual abuse, misogyny, religion, class etc.
Urban Drama in Film and Theatre, is a specific hybrid style of of narrative storytelling who’s characters, and situations fill up the pages of Urban Drama playwrights and screenwriters who seek to engage their audiences in very real and provocative ways. These movies and plays can be intense and searing at times with their topics and issues related to so called “street life” or stories that reflect the everyday struggles of so many that live in highly urbanized areas dealing with poverty, crime, family, drug abuse, gangs, race, and social and economic immobility.
It is interesting to note that the style of these plays are not always supposed to be realistic. In fact many playwrights will create stories that are slightly more melodramatic or having more melodramatic characters in some situations to make their social commentary have more impact and perhaps more entertainment in the storytelling. Stephen Adly-Guirgis is one of these playwrights who tends to tell his stories in a melodramatic fashion or style. The Last days of Judas Iscariot, Jesus Hopped the A-train, In Arabia We’d All Be Kings, Mother F@$%*& With A Hat all have melodramatic characters and more theatrical elements that help to lift the drama in a potentially provocative and entertaining way. The language and often course vernacular of the people and characters that populate his plays is very important to him as way to convey aspects of behavior, culture, decorum and a certain point of view about the society around him.
Here is a six minute clip from a recent production of his play Our Lady of 121st Street. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmWuM-IDm5s
WARNING: There is a lot of course language used in the dialogue within this clip which is the first scene from the play. You may want to use ear buds.
It is your choice if you would like to watch the clip.
One could make the argument that Urban Drama is a melding of particular aspects of so many of the other genres of Theatre and Film that we have looked at so far this semester, African American Theatre, Latino Theatre, Asian and LGBT Theatre. There are so many common themes that cross over these genres. Urban Drama will often purposely blend the characters and cultures to look more at the humanity of particular group of people rather than the specific cultural or ethnic background being the underlying through line. These plays tend to have a “melting pot” kind of casting that adds to the language, the conflicts and social angst in these stories.
For your discussion this week:
Reflecting on your studies this week including your own research and conclusions to what Urban Drama in Theatre and Film is:
What is your opinion of this genre of Film and Theatre?
What do you believe are some of the major themes or issues that this genre deals with?
Would you ever go to a play like Our Lady of 121st Street? Why or why not?
Would you seek out another Urban Drama film in the future. Why or why not?