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Ben Harris and Mark Ebsen Zeller Grip the Mic Tight.

College theater gets a good rap next week, when Grip the Mic Tight premières at ASU's Herberger Mainstage Theatre New Plays Festival. Mark Ebsen Zeller's "slam poetry and hip-hop lyrical odyssey" recounts the life of Ivory, a famous white rapper bent on self-destruction.

"He's about to commit suicide when the play begins, and we go back and follow how he got to that place," explains Zeller, a graduate student in ASU's playwriting program -- and star of the show. Showcasing the music of Zeller's rap duo DH -- whose debut EP, Derelict Dayz, is set for release during the festival -- Grip the Mic Tight represents a rapidly rising genre: hip-hop theater. Zeller believes the play will attract audiences not drawn to more traditional theater.

"It blends so many different elements . . ." he says, "a crossover between my two loves: theater and hip-hop." Making no attempt to soften an often-gritty scene, Zeller keeps it real, so to speak, by incorporating strong language and adult themes. "I always say [the play] has a parental advisory label, just like any other hip-hop album."

Also making a play for the big time: ASU playwriting grad students James Garcia and Amy Dominy, whose works run in repertory with Grip the Mic Tight. In American Latino Redux, Garcia fuses satire with semi-autobiographical experiences from his childhood and career as a journalist. In Plastic Angels, Dominy explores the nature of commitment through two couples who, upon returning to the site of their weddings, discover they were never actually married.

Emphasizing accessibility as much as originality, the eighth annual festival -- being presented as part of ASU's Herberger Mainstage Theatre season for the first time -- also features post-performance discussions with the playwrights and production teams.


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