The Brooklyn Papers / Jori Klein

Five years ago, Stephen Haff, a music and
drama teacher at Bushwick High School, founded Real People Theater,
a company of young actors who rework classic and modern plays
into what they call the "Ghetto Remix."

After producing "Romeo y Julieta," "Hamlet-Prince
of Brooklyn," "King Lear: Brooklyn Remix" and
Canadian star George Walker’s "Tough," the group is
now presenting "Ring Around the Royalty," RPT’s remix
of the "Nibelungenlied," the same cycle of Germanic
and Nordic myths Richard Wagner turned into "Der Ring des
Nibelungen." RPT’s "Ring Around the Royalty" will
be presented in the company’s home since last year, the Real
People Theater, at 678 Hart St. between Central and Wilson avenues
in Bushwick.

"Ring Around the Royalty," commissioned by the Nibelungen
Spiel Feste in Worms, Germany, is about how Zigfried, a great
warrior who has slain a dragon and stolen the dragon’s magic,
goes to Burgundy to win the hand of Briemhild and gets her brother,
Gunther, to help him in exchange for his assistance in Gunther’s
courting of Brunhild, Queen of Ireland.

"The treachery of the two men and Zigfried’s use of magic
cause tragic disaster. And the conflict between the two women
in the text is staged on the steps of the Worms Cathedral,"
said Haff, who directs.

As of this date, RPT has performed "Tough" in Nova
Scotia, "Ring Around the Royalty" in Germany, and other
works in New York theaters such as The Flea, New Dramatists,
Repertorio Espanol, The Collapsible Hole and The Performing Garage;
and theaters, high schools and colleges in Los Angeles, Chicago
and Toronto. RPT has a working and mentoring relationship with
Bennington College, Fordham University, and The Wooster Group,
which has adopted RPT as its official apprentice company. And
the group’s work has attracted the attention of the press including
The Village Voice, Germany’s Manheimer Morgen and Chicago’s The

But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, Haff told GO Brooklyn
that RPT’s practice of using no more props than can fit into
a plastic bag and a set consisting of two chairs and perhaps
a table began as a necessity.

"The school gave us nothing," he said. "[The students]
made creative use of their bodies and their voices. That’s an
aesthetic we’re very proud of."

Necessity also played a big role in the founding of the group.

"When I was trying to teach ’Romeo and Juliet,’ the kids
were rejecting it," Haff said. "I think it was because
I was going about it in a very conventional way, without any
intrinsic motivation. That changed when I asked them to rewrite
the scene in their own words."

Haff’s students were so pleased with their remix they asked him
if they could stage it.

"That was the first production. It was a combination of
Shakespeare, Spanish and street language," said Haff. "Our
next play was ’King Lear,’ and it was half Shakespeare and half
street language.

Haff believes his students’ interpretations bring out their own
originality and resiliency, and the experience of producing theatrical
work "involves all of the intelligences that there aren’t
otherwise outlets for at school – bodily, verbal, interpersonal
and intrapersonal, and rhythmic.

"Working with classical writers is, in part, an apprenticeship
for eventually working in a partnership. We always start with
reading the entire work [for ’Ring Around the Royalty,’ RPT has
used the Penguin Classics English translation]. The kids are
very aware of how language expresses character and emotion. They’re
extraordinary at finding the humor in serious texts like ’To
Be or Not To Be.’ The kids are bringing who they are to the stage.
That’s what keeps all theater alive, especially Shakespeare."

It’s still Haff, however, who chooses the material.

"The plays come from my experience and what I feel will
be an exciting and promising match with the students," said
Haff, a 38-year-old who grew up near Stratford, Ontario, the
site of the famous Shakespeare festival.

RPT’s next project will be "Paradise Lost."


Real People Theater’s production of
"Ring Around the Royalty" runs through Jan. 25, Saturday
at 7 pm and Sunday at 3 pm. Running time is 60 minutes, followed
by a discussion. Tickets are $5. The Real People Theater is located
at 678 Hart St. between Central and Wilson Avenues in Bushwick.
For reservations, call (212) 946-6475.