Penn State student writes hip-hop show ‘GRAFF’ to emphasize self-expression | Way of life
From rap to dance battles, Penn State’s downtown theater center presents “GRAFF,” a hip-hop play emphasizing the message of self-expression written and directed by the student of Penn State, Kyle Blumenthal.
Blumenthal (lead actor), who started acting in seventh grade, said he “became more interested in writing and directing” as he got older. “I really like to set up the machine that is theater. I think it’s best to dive into as many areas as possible to learn how to tell a story.
With this passion for stories, Blumenthal began the process of writing “GRAFF” his senior year of high school and said “it’s come a long way since then.” Beginning as a story on paper, “GRAFF” has evolved into a podcast, a miniseries, and is now finally “what it’s meant to be,” Blumenthal said — a theater performance performed on stage.
Drawing inspiration from graffiti and its flawed art form, Blumenthal said “[‘GRAFF’] is about expression – especially for young people these days trying to express themselves and getting bullied badly for it.
“I hope people can be less judgmental and critical of others after seeing this show,” Blumenthal said, “and support the idea of expression, even if it’s not perfect because it’s not what it is about.”
The play diversifies through structure and characters, bringing various art forms to life and ultimately creating “the message of being true to your art and not sacrificing it for others,” said Lucy Martin. (first year student).
Main character Elliot, played by Justin Roldán Figueroa, struggles with self-expression and personal relationships throughout the show, reflecting on his true personality as a graffiti artist and how his family and friends contribute to it.
Elliot nearly succumbs to pressure from surrounding characters to change his art form in an effort to be noticed and fit in.
Struggling with self-discovery, Elliot gets some advice from his father, played by Shane Troxell (junior player): “It’s not about whether or not you can make the trip – it’s about whether you may or may not take the first step.”
Roldán Figueroa (freshman actor), originally from Puerto Rico, linked Elliot to his personal journey with self-expression.
“I grew up in an environment where I was very different from everyone else,” Roldán Figueroa said. “I liked a lot of things that made it difficult to fit in and relate to other kids in my age group. Back in Puerto Rico, there weren’t a lot of career opportunities in the arts.
Especially after the coronavirus pandemic, Roldán Figueroa spoke about his personal difficulties.
“My family really helped me along the journey,” said Roldán Figueroa, explaining his passion for acting and his pursuit at Penn State. “They came to see me tonight, which made my heart warm.”
Jenna Wood, who plays the character of Skim, also talked about how the show’s meaning seeped into the cast and her personal life.
“All the family elements and the friendship that I really love,” Wood (lead actor) said. “I absolutely adore the cast.”
With lights, sound and humor, “GRAFF” is an immersive experience for its audience, carrying Blumenthal’s aspirations beyond the final applause.
“At the end of the day, I love telling stories,” Blumenthal said. “I believe that through stories we can learn more about each other as people.”
Succeeding the shows on Friday and Saturday evenings, “GRAFF” will perform again at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
“With self-expression and staying true to who you are, you really can have a chance to change the world,” Roldán Figueroa said.
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