Dramatic Understatement

Hip hop meets 1930s Germany in the theater piece Stateless

Local actor Dan Wolf got an important letter from his grandfather; unfortunately, it had been delayed a little. "I got the letter 15 years after he died," Wolf explained in a recent phone interview. Not one to dwell on the negative, the performer took his granddad's 42-page story about leaving Germany and used it as a springboard for a new theater piece called Stateless. With the help of his bandmate from Felonious, Tommy Shepherd, Wolf uses beat-boxing, vaudeville, and live hip hop to compare the prejudice faced by European Jews in the 1930s to that endured in the United States by African-Americans: "The Nuremberg Laws were actually modeled after the 1880s Jim Crow laws," he said.

The letter reveals that Wolf's great-grandfather was a vaudevillian who wrote "a famous song that people still sing, but because the authors were Jewish, there's no credit on it." The tune is about a boy playing with a hoop and a stick ("The PlayStation of the 1900s," quipped Wolf) who trips and falls and bites his tongue. "But he picks himself up and brushes himself off and says, basically, 'It'll take more than that to get a Hamburg boy down.'" So along with the play's serious, critical examinations of cultural phenomena such as the link between concentration camps and the prison-industrial complex, look for the hip hop version of "An De Eck Steit Jung Mit'n Tuedelband."

Dan Wolf and Tommy Shepherd in Stateless.
Jeff Fohl
Dan Wolf and Tommy Shepherd in Stateless.

Wolf has a healthy sense of humor about the show (insert Hamburger joke here -- he would), but his goals for the project are nothing short of idealistic. "People ask, 'Is it quote-unquote hip hop theater?'" he related, obviously somewhat conflicted. "It's kind of like the energy of the struggle of hip hop -- racism and dealing with people based on their outward appearances -- versus a real human understanding of what people are." Stateless travels to Hamburg later this year.

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