Most of us can say that at one point in our lives, we didn’t fit in. But how did we know that we didn’t fit in? Kyle Abraham knew because people told him so:
My dad, he was a big basketball coach, and he sent me one summer to a basketball camp – which was probably one of the worst experiences of my life. I didn’t know that I didn’t fit in, but I was told on several occasions how much I did not fit in. I think there’s something about that in the story of Pinocchio, where I don’t really think he’s aware that people see him as different, he just thinks that he is this boy, he thinks he’s like everybody else. But then people tell him otherwise. And then he goes on this quest; he wants to be famous and do all these things and he does all these shows with the puppeteer. So, for me, I found all these really interesting parallels between that and my experience growing up in an urban community in Pittsburgh where it seems like if you put this kind of Hip Hop bravado on, you’ll be more accepted, or you won’t be called out as different. So that’s really what the show is referencing in relation to the story of Pinocchio. The soundtrack gives you this more industrial vibe, so, for me, it was thinking, “how can I make this story relate?” And, for me, it became less about this cobbler, or craftsman, making this wooden puppet, but more – maybe it’s happening in a factory, maybe it’s more industrial. Maybe you’re turning someone into a robot. Really devoid of feelings and emotion and just this false sense of celebrated masculinity.
Contributing to the ever-evolving dialogue on heteronormativity, in Hip Hop, sports, and beyond, Abraham’s newest work Live! The Realest MC infuses dance and storytelling in a journey of self-discovery. Questioning constructs around masculinity and identity, Abraham, like Pinocchio, only began searching for himself after others informed him that he was different. In both stories, though, it seems less about finding yourself, and more about understanding yourself while searching for others like you.
For some, sports and masculinity are synonymous. In football this past season, there seemed to be as many articles about homosexuality and players’ controversial (and also awesome) statements about marriage equality as there was coverage of the games. For Abraham, basketball became a place where his masculinity was questioned, where his “difference” was called out.
Speaking of heteronormativity and sports, remember Dennis Rodman? In the early 90s, Rodman challenged gender perceptions in the NBA, regularly painting his nails, dying his hair, and wearing women’s clothing. His public appearances garnered a lot of positive and negative attention, but no matter what the response, it got people talking. Twenty years later, that dialogue has evolved, hopefully progressing.
And since we’re talking about Dennis Rodman, Hip Hop, and gender roles/heteronormativity, here’s this little bit of awesome for you.
Join the dialogue, check out Live! The Realest MC this weekend, March 14-16.