Greg Ochitwa’s new play Cope deals with universal problems through hip-hop
Jan. 26 – Feb. 4
Not being picked for a game of dodgeball is never an enjoyable experience, and you can ask anyone who has taken phys-ed in high school for clarification on that. But Greg Ochitwa, writer and one of the performers of the Globe Theatre’s upcoming Shumiatcher Sandbox Series play, Cope, said he’s “happy that [he] didn’t get selected for the season last year.”
His upcoming hip-hop musical, which has been in the works for the better part of the last three years, was turned down for a stage production by the Globe Theatre last year, but Ochitwa was given the opportunity to do a workshop with it.
“I had the chance to have the one night in front of an audience with no pressure of a show and hear how it plays and works with the audience,” Ochitwa said. “All the steps along the way have been so different and so crucial, but three years doesn’t seem like that long to work on it; it’s gone through so many phases, and exciting ones at that. The reading was a crazy, nerve-wracking, exciting night.
“It was a total climax in itself, and [the performance] is going to be another fun one. I still can’t really wrap my head around it because I’ve been looking at it for so long as the writer, and now I’m handing it over to my director and just taking on the role and memorizing lines.”
Although Ochitwa had no previous experience in writing for the theatre, creating and developing Cope was “something that made sense for [him] to do.”
Writing for Cope began when Ochitwa was writing hip-hop songs that seemed to have a similar story to them.
“I think hip-hop … lend[s] [itself] so well to storytelling,” Ochitwa said. “I wrote a couple songs right out of university, and right off the bat it seemed like they went together and worked as some kind of plot or narrative, and then started writing theatre based on some of those themes that came up in those songs. I was just meshing stuff together for the first year and a half.”
While Cope may feature hip-hop as the accompanying musical style to the performance, Ochitwa explained the production isn’t focused around the genre itself.
“I like that [Cope]’s not based on hip-hop,” Ochitwa said. “It’s not about my character going and winning a rap battle. It uses hip-hop, but not to tell a story about some rapper.”
Theatrical performances featuring hip-hop as the predominant musical style are far less common than other genres of music, but Ochitwa believes this is the only way his musical could have worked.
“[Hip-hop is] something that I’ve been writing and performing from the early 2000s,” Ochitwa said. “My dad had me singing on a stage since I was three – I grew up singing on stage and did musicals throughout high school.
“I’ve had many inspirations in music, but when I started writing, it came out in a hip-hop style, but always with lots of melodic undertones because of my experience with singing. I couldn’t write a musical in any other style.
“It’s been an interesting undertaking and very challenging thing. I’m really happy with how the music has turned out for this.”
The plot of Cope centres on the way that people are forced to deal with the different circumstances and situations they find themselves in.
“I don’t know if [people] necessarily change, but it’s a sign of the character of the person,” Ochitwa said. “When their back’s against the wall and things are in a rough position, how do they react in those cases? These can be defining moments in a person’s life; you can come out a lot stronger from the situation, or it can go different ways for different people.
“There are three characters in the play, played by Kaitlyn Semple, Don Ready, and I, and the characters all deal with their problems in much different ways. Things collide near the end, and they all change throughout the play.”
Despite the differing issues that the characters in Cope are dealing with, Ochitwa believes the fact all of the characters are having to deal with some ordeal or another will enjoin the audience to associate with the characters.
“The issues that the three characters in the play are dealing with are all quite different,” Ochitwa said. “Whatever situation people come from and whatever environment you’re born into, we all have things that we’re dealing with.
“I don’t think anyone’s life is particularly easy. I think that’s what people will relate to most in the play. There’s no spectacular thing that makes anybody different than the other person. My character’s specific condition is not the most common thing, but it’s relatable that there are constantly things in our lives that we’re trying to deal with and negotiate the best path to figuring it out.”
Cope may not be a true story, but Ochitwa said he has drawn from events and experiences in his life to create the story and the issues that the characters experience.
“I had some stories in my life, and I think everybody’s got some interesting stories,” Ochitwa said. “The play’s not a true story, but I just imagined what would have happened in particular best and worst case scenarios and then built on it to make it more dramatic than my own life.
“One of the main issues for the other male character in the play is a pretty heavy drug issue, which for me is something that I had come in to contact with and [is] a hard issue to work on.”
Ochitwa does worry about how the portrayal of such issues comes across to the audience.
“You don’t want to be making fun of characters, and that was always a dangerous thing … what they would be saying and what people would be taking from it,” he said. “You never know how your work is coming across and how people are interpreting it. It’s hard to say how issues are going to be taken.”
Ochitwa won’t have to wait long to find out how his work is received, as performances of Cope are scheduled to begin Jan. 26. Audiences appear to be eager to find out how they’ll receive the show, as the opening night is already sold out. If you weren’t one of the lucky few to get tickets for opening night, fear not; performances of Cope run until Feb. 4.