February 9, 2007

And the Beat Goes on…

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DAZE: How did you first get into beat boxing?

Adam Matta: Well, I just did it on my own, imitating Doug E. Fresh, Fat Boys. I just heard it on the radio, so I’d do it for friends and at school, just making jokes and stuff, just do it for a second, and then stop and laugh. But right around 2000, people started to talk about my beat boxing, like, “Hey, you’re actually good and stuff,” or someone would hear me do it and tell someone else about it. And it got back to me, so I was like, maybe I should take this more seriously. I started going to open mikes and started beat boxing with other people, and it just built from there. … It was kind of this nervous habit that I channeled into something productive.

DAZE: How did this transform into performance art?

AM: To me, they go together. Beat boxing is my performance art … My friend did a show once a month, but every night they had these open mikes. They had this thing called “Faceboyz Open Mike.” It’s just this really weird thing. People would get up there [on stage] and scream for three minutes … it was this really wild stuff, but like I said, the people were just really dedicated to their work.

I did theatre in college, as well as fine art [and] music. I was the lead singer of a band in college, and performance art is kind of a fusion of all those things. It’s just being up there making some sort of statement, and if it’s a one-person thing, it can be really powerful. Beat boxing more for music application, but when I started out, I was making these music compositions with a lot of spoken word. I would mix in spoken word, and I’m still working with that stuff. Beat boxing can really transcend … I compare it sometimes to being a standup comic — you’re up there by yourself and just trying to keep people listening and laughing and getting into it.

DAZE: Let’s go back to Beat Box Bard for a moment. What was your background in Shakespeare before the show?

AM: Like barely [any]. I started in middle school, but I hadn’t looked at Shakespeare in years … I just love the way it sounds. I like his words. The more I’ve been exposed to him, the more I’ve realized what a genius he was. I remember when I read it in school it took a while for it to sink in, for me to get what was going on, but now I’m really starting to appreciate his [word] choices, his turns of phrase, his double meanings, so it’s great being exposed to it and having a chance to work with it.

DAZE: What do you think Shakespeare would think of Beat Box Bard adding beats and breaking to his plays and sonnets?

AM: I think he wouldn’t mind the beat boxing because for all we know he might have intended it to be with music from his day because the show is 60 percent scenes with subtle beats below it just to create mood and atmosphere and 40 percent songs with the guitar.

People put Shakespearian words to music, and I just added the beats to the songs. So it’s just like we’re adding a sound and chorus to the text. I don’t know, I don’t think he would mind it. It’s adjusted to the text; we tried to build it so it doesn’t overpower the words, and we don’t change the words. If anything, we’re really honoring it by not changing his words.

DAZE: There are two other students beat boxing with you in the show, Bennett Fox ’08 and Molly Pan ’09. What was it like working with students?

AM: With professional artists, it’s not really that different; it’s just that the students don’t have as much experience … The people I’m working with are really open to collaboration and are really great to work with. We give each other feedback. They let me conduct them. But they also give me feedback on what I’m doing and I respect what they’re saying. You know, Molly’s an amazing musician, and Bennett’s really talented too. I do feel a little bit of the whole role model status, but I don’t think it affects their work or my work.

It’s there because I’m older and I’ve done all these things, but they also know a lot of stuff that I don’t know. You can learn from anybody.

DAZE: Where exactly did the inspiration for Beat Box Bard come from?

Bruce Levitt: Well, Adam is actually my cousin … and [his mother] sent me a video of him beat boxing for this school program on a cable channel in New York City. So I asked him to come up and do something for this course I teach on solo performance … Adam came up and did something for my class, and the day he got here, I thought it would be cool if we did something for the public. So we just put the word out, and the next day a hundred people showed up and he did this wonderful presentation.

I got the idea that I really did want to use this; it’s really dynamic, beat boxing, and he doesn’t just do drums or rhythm — he does trumpet and guitar, and he’s a wonderful musician … so I thought, I would really love to do a show, and I really love Shakespeare.

I did four years of Shakespeare in the Park in Fort Worth, and I was the artistic director for the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival. I did a lot of Shakespeare, and I thought, well, what would happen if we combined beat boxing with Shakespeare?

So, I brought Adam up last spring, and we did a workshop and cast the other two beat boxers, and some of the stuff from the workshop ended up being in the show. This fall, I did a class on alternative Shakespeare, and we created a script with the students and some of the TAs and that’s how it came about. So it’s been about a year-and-a-half to two-year process.

Check out Beat Box Bard at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts. It’s being performed now through Feb. 11.