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NAC Hip Hop Theatre Festival touches down in Ottawa this winter

NAC Hip Hop Theatre Culture festival

OTTAWA October 4, 2023 – Hip Hop Culture Takes Centre Stage with the NAC Hip Hop Theatre Festival this winter at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. This eleven-day festival celebrates the power of words in the convergence of hip hop and theatre, January 31 – February 10.

The NAC Hip Hop Theatre Festival will host ten events over 11 days, featuring two concerts from Popular Music and Variety’s Fridays at the Fourth series, two free panels and the Spoken Word presentation The Old Black Maple, will hold two performances, including the second Black Out Night for English Theatre in 2023-2024. To check out the entire festival, visit:

Why Hip Hop

Hip hop is a highly theatrical form. Why then couldn’t it be part of the National Art Centre’s English Theatre’s season? When the NAC English Theatre team explored this question, it sparked an idea and ignited a conversation about what defines a theatrical performance.

Emerging in the 1970s from disenfranchised Black communities in the Bronx, hip hop has deeply influenced Canadian culture for over four decades. The term ‘Hip Hop Theatre’ emerged in the early 1990s, coined by London-based dancer and emcee Jonzi D, to describe a performance style fusing hip hop dance and theatre. As hip hop celebrates 45 years in Canada, NAC English Theatre kicks off 2024 with the NAC Hip Hop Theatre Festivalcurated by Rose-Ingrid Benjamin with Nina Lee Aquino and NAC Popular Music and Variety.

“Hip hop in its purest and most unadulterated form is theatre. If we look at the arc of theatre history all the way from Shakespeare to contemporary theatre, including vaudeville and early and current Broadway, hip hop in all its forms belongs without a doubt,” observed Curator Rose-Ingrid Benjamin. “It is so much more than music – it’s a lifestyle, a culture, a revolutionary language that gives voice to a facet of the Black struggle, and now resonates globally.”

“The question led me to revisit my work, seeking and finding intersections with hip hop,” said NAC English Theatre Artistic Director Nina Lee Aquino. “I discovered other global Hip Hop Theatre festivals, confirming that the convergence of theatre and hip hop is a shared passion among many artists, celebrating the synergy of the hybrid works which emerge from this confluence.”

The Text-based Essence of Hip Hop

The eleven-day festival will revolve around the text-based essence of hip hop, opening with a free monumental Hip Hop Cypher. Subsequent performances will encompass battle rap, spoken word, staged readings, panels, concerts, and virtual events, all aimed at broadening our perspective on how we view and experience theatre at its core.

“I kept revisiting the realm of plays grounded in text, where the interplay of words and rhythm are central. I wanted not only to explore and satisfy my curiosity but also to showcase this intertwined relationship,” remarked Ms Aquino.

NAC English Theatre is excited to join in the tradition of Hip Hop Theatre festivals being presented around the globe. Through the festival, we hope audiences will cultivate a deeper respect and admiration for hip hop as a distinct and vibrant theatrical form. 

NAC Hip Hop Theatre Festival Schedule – January 31 – February 10, 2024 

Freedom: A Mixtape
b current Performing Arts
Thursday, February 1, 8 p.m. Azrieli Studio 

Can I Kick It Too
Thursday, February 1, 1 p.m.

Dangerous Minds: In Conversation with the Hip Hop Headucatorz 
Saturday, February 3, 1 p.m. Peter A. Herrndorf Place – FREE 

The Old Black Maple 
Saturday, February 3, Azrieli Studio 
7 p.m.  
9:30 p.m. – Black Out Night Performance 

by Charlotte Corbeil–Coleman and Joseph Jomo Pierre 
Wednesday, February 7, 8 p.m., Fourth Stage

Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera 
Created and performed by Sébastien Heins 
Thursday, February 8, 8 p.m., Azrieli Studio 

NAC Hip Hop Theatre Festival in collaboration with Charron Presents 
Cold Heat  
Saturday, February 10, 7 p.m., Azrieli Studio  

Fridays At The Fourth 

Popular Music and Variety’s Fridays At The Fourth is excited to introduce emerging Hip Hop artists from across Canada to the stage as part of NAC’s inaugural Hip Hop Theatre Festival. 
Asuquomo with S.O.A.P 
Friday, February 2 8:30 p.m. Fourth Stage 

DijahSB and Charmaine with Lia Cloud
Friday, February 9 8:30 p.m. Fourth Stage 

To check out the entire festival, visit:

The National Arts Centre Foundation would like to thank The Slaight Family Foundation and Official Hotel Partner Ottawa Embassy Hotel & Suites. Special thank you to the Dr. Kanta Marwah Endowment for English Theatre. 
The National Arts Centre Foundation would like to thank Official Car Partner Mark Motors Group, Performance Sponsor BMO Financial Group, and Official Hotel Partner The Metcalfe. The Arts, Medicine and #Life speaker series is made possible thanks to the support of The Canadian Medical Association, MD Financial Management, and Scotiabank. 
The National Arts Centre (NAC) is Canada’s bilingual, multi-disciplinary home for the performing arts. The NAC presents, creates, produces, and co-produces performing arts programming in various streams — the NAC Orchestra, Dance, English Theatre, French Theatre, Indigenous Theatre, and Popular Music and Variety — and nurtures the next generation of audiences and artists from across Canada. The NAC is located in the National Capital Region on the unceded territory of the Anishinabe Algonquin Nation.   

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