Performance artist Paige Hernandez found her voice
through hip-hop. In her one-woman show, she wants
to inspire young people to chase their own passions.
The Alliance Theatre’s “Paige in Full,” a piece created for middle-school audiences (grades 6-12), runs Oct. 6-13 in the Woodruff Arts Center’s Rich Theatre. Details, tickets HERE or at 404.733.5000.
GROWING UP IN BALTIMORE in the 1980s, Paige Hernandez wrestled with her mixed-race heritage and “a world that seemed full of dismal possibilities.” She’s African-American, but also Cuban and Chinese. Where, and how, exactly, did she fit in?
Her refrain: “Was I enough of any one thing?”
Hip-hop helped her stop sweating the identity stuff and start strutting her stuff.
“Hip-hop is really about swagger,” says the 37-year-old writer/actor/dancer/educator. “It’s about the ability to make anything and everything you have work to your advantage.”
The genre’s dynamic beats, take-charge attitudes and multicultural influences gave Hernandez the courage and drive to embrace her own story, which she revealed in Paige in Full: A B-Girl’s Visual Mixtape, her high-energy, one-woman show.
“I discovered that I had a story to tell about a strong woman who overcomes things and becomes empowered through hip-hop and theater,” she says.
Paige in Full, part of the Alliance Theatre’s Family Series outreach to middle- and high-school students, reveals its creator’s coming-of-age journey. It hits on themes of love, acceptance, bullying, toxic relationships and multiculturalism.
The show launched Hernandez’s career. Since its 2010 debut in Washington, D.C., she’s done it throughout the United States and around the world. All the while, she’s managed to create 10 more pieces, with titles like Havana Hop, which she describes as a “children’s tale of culture and confidence.”
Hernandez, a Citizen Artist Fellow at the Kennedy Center, has been named a Rising Leader of Color by the Theatre Communications Group, the nonprofit service group for American regional theater, and a “Theatre Worker You Should Know” in American Theatre magazine’s monthly column.
She’s on a mission to help kids find their passions, partly, she says, “because I found my voice and path through my passion.”
She performs all of the public performances in the Alliance run, with Atlanta theater artist Chani Maisonet (the Alliance’s Dancing Granny, Theatrical Outfit’s Nina Simone) doing the role for school groups. It’s the first time someone other than Hernandez will play “Paige.”
What Atlanta will teach me is how I can pass this on, Hernandez says. “I need to retire it so that any young performer can take it.”
The show pumps up traditional theater — hence its “visual mixtape” distinction — in a fusion of poetry, theater, dance, multimedia projections and turntable action that churns out hip-hop, rock and punk beats.
Paige in Full (the title is a play on Paid in Full, the 1987 hip-hop tune from Eric B. & Rakim) is also a beginner’s course in the genre that sprung from the Bronx in the late 1970s. Along the way, it remembers several lost hip-hop legends, including Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, J Dilla and Michael Jackson.
Hernandez has kept Paige feeling fresh for the past eight years by popping in new tracks and updating hip-hop references. “You’ll get a little bit of everything to get my full story across,” she says.
According to DC Theatre Scene’s Porscha Coleman, “Paige in Full is the story of any true hip-hop lover, and her mixtape is the soundtrack of our lives.”
When Hernandez was 8, she shared a bedroom with her little brother, Nick (now D.C.-based hip-hop producer/artist Nick Tha 1da). Their room became the venue for Friday-night family dance parties.
“I’d push the furniture away, have the boom box all ready, turn on my lava lamp and make our parents line up outside our room and give tickets to get inside,” Hernandez says. She’d create a new playlist each week. It was all about producing a successful event and everybody having a great time. “And you know what? That’s still what I’m all about.”
Paige in Full is a hip whirlwind of positivity, but its creator didn’t shy away from deeper, darker moments.
“I had to take the audience on a relatable journey,” she says. “They need to ultimately care enough to see me triumph.”