On December 28, 1998, a 19-year-old African American woman,Tyisha Miller, was killed by four police officers in Riverside, California. After the 12 bullets were fired, Tyisha was in a comatose state, unable to move and in dire need of medical help. The police officers were not charged with crimes because they reported the shootings were out of self-defense. I recently had the opportunity to interview UC Riverside Professor Rickerby Hinds about his production, “Dreamscape,” which explores the story beyond Tyisha’s death and the very real social issues it brought to life.
How did you go about investigating and producing material for the play? Did you meet with Tyisha Miller’s family members and friends?
No, actually. The play is not intended to be a biographical sketch of Tyisha Miller. What I did essentially was ask myself, “If I was a 19-year-old black girl being shot to death, what thoughts would go through my mind?” And so the construction of the play used that as the foundation. Then I used the coroner’s report and the testimony of one of the police officers. Using those three elements and dance and movement, I tell the story of a 19-year-old girl who was shot. I didn’t interview the family because it wasn’t so much about recreating Tyisha’s life and who she was but it was a jump-off start to explore the relationship between the African-American community and the police.
How did you come up with the title “Dreamscape”?
It came about because of the premise behind the play and the significance of the word itself. In the play … the main character is passed out or she is asleep or she is having a seizure — it was never determined. So in my mind, the character is in a dream state and she believes that if she can tell the stories that she needs to tell while she is in this dream state, then she will escape from being killed.
How does writing a play from pure imagination differ from writing a play on a real-life event?
When I wrote “Dreamscape,” there were so many things that just wrote themselves … For instance, the number of shots: Tyisha was shot 12 times, so there are 12 scenes in the play, each divided by a bullet. I discovered she was shot on Dec. 28, which is the third day of Kwanzaa. When I researched … I found out [that day is] about building community and creating peace with our brothers and sisters. I also explored what would it mean to be a 19-year-old black girl in 1998.
Many of your other plays incorporate elements of hip-hop. Did you grow up with hip-hop? How did that affect you as a person? What’s your hip-hop story?
I grew up in LA on the West Coast. I’m older, so I was around when hip-hop really started back in the late ‘70s. I remember the message, and I remember waiting for new records by LL and Run-D.M.C. to come out. As a young person I was influenced by the music and the dance and the graffiti. These elements really come out in my writing; I constantly write about the rhythm of hip-hop and the aesthetics of hip-hop. With this play I decided to go with the DJ and spoken word. The DJ that began in “Dreamscape” transformed into an extrapolation of the DJ, which is the beatboxer.
Who was your favorite artist growing up?
Oh, wow. Probably Run-D.M.C. and Public Enemy, and then later on probably LL Cool J. Those three were my favorites. There were a lot of artists that represented different types of elements. Like, with Public Enemy it was the political side of hip-hop culture. With Run-D.M.C. you have the pioneers and the beginning spaces of hip-hop, and the DJ got a lot of attention back in that day.
Do you believe “Dreamscape” to be successful?
That’s always a tricky question. When you talk about theater, you’re looking at how that particular work has influenced the people that it has come into contact with. With theater, success is never going to be a monetary thing because there are so few writers or directors who reach a desired pinnacle. So as far as this work, I believe that it has been very successful, and part of it is because the play itself. When it’s been produced, the audience’s lives are altered and affected. It travels the gamut of all ages and races and demographics. What is so gratifying is to have people who don’t necessarily go to the theater say how much they enjoyed the play. Success is looking at how far of the scope of influence has come because of the play. Monetarily speaking though, I just received a $10,000 grant to tour “Dreamscape.” We’re going to England!
How did you pick an actress to play Tyisha Miller and a beatboxer?
There are two casts. Both casts are equally good. The comment I’ve gotten whenever people see the production is, “I cannot imagine this play being done by someone else,” regardless of who was performing. I’ve known the actresses as students as well as performers. I’m not big on auditions; I simply told them, “I want you to be in this production.” And they agreed. I already knew their talents. The production calls for someone who can act, who can dance, and who can rap a little bit, who can rhyme and command the stage for an hour. One of the beatboxers—the one who is coming to UCSB—I’ve known for seven years. He’s not a UC Riverside student, but was a local community member part of a spoken word group. I knew I wanted to work with him, so I called him up and told him he had to do “Dreamscape.”
If there was one takeaway message from the play, what would you like it to be?
The conversation that I hope audiences will come away with is the loss of a human being. I want the fact that there was a fellow human being who was killed and who is no longer here to resonate. I want audiences to discuss whether or not that loss was necessary, whether or not that loss could have been prevented, and whether or not we can avoid having the same kind of loss in the future. I want to generate conversation.
‘Dreamscape’ will be performed for free tonight at 7:30 in the MCC Theater.