Mike Oatman gets props for BEFORE I DIE: THE WAR AGAINST TUPAC SHAKUR (Cleveland) — Karamu , Mike Oatman , Terrence Spivey — AAPEX

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mike Oatman gets props for BEFORE I DIE: THE WAR AGAINST TUPAC SHAKUR (Cleveland)

Meet Michael Oatman, the best playwright you’ve never heard of!
By FELICIA C. HANEY Staff Reporter

Hold any “top five rappers” poll in just about any city in the U.S. and you could bet damn near your last dollar that Tupac Shakur will be noted in the rankings of everyone who took it. We know him as the boisterous rap star who raged a bi-coastal war with the Notorious B.I.G., sticking his middle finger up at cameras and being the victim of two shoot-outs before his untimely death. But what we sometimes overlook is the fact that Tupac’s life had many facets, which is why he was able to fall so heavy on the ears of listeners in pissy project hallways in New York City to palm tree palaces in sunny Southern California.

Beginning this week, a Cleveland native decides to explore those many sides of Tupac that made him so interesting that we are still trying to decipher him 13 years after his death. “Before I Die: The War Against Tupac Shakur,” a Karamu House exclusive, was written by local playwright Michael Oatman that takes a microscopic look at the final days of Tupac’s life from his Las Vegas penthouse suite. In the solitude of his hotel room the audience will find Tupac “reviewing his life and taking stock in where he’s been and how he’s arrived at where he’s at,” said Oatman. And believe it or not, he’s desperately trying to arrange a meeting in that very room with none other than… Biggie Smalls!

Sounds pretty deep, right? Like the kind of plot that’s been brewing in Oatman’s head as far back as the night the fallen rapper was slain.

Well, not really. In fact, Oatman put together not just one, but two entire scripts in a weekend with a little help from his boss – better known to Cleveland as Karamu’s artistic director Terrence Spivey.

“My boss mentioned that he wanted to do a play about Tupac,” Oatman said. “That was in New York, but the playwright was not crazy about letting that play out of New York. So, he wanted me to take a wand at it. I basically locked myself in my apartment for a weekend and I wrote a couple plays so that he would have something to choose from.”

After a little polishing up of the rough draft, the play Spivey chose was “Before I Die: The War Against Tupac Shakur,” which previews Wednesday, June 3 and will run June 4-14 at Karamu, 2355 E. 89 St. in Cleveland.

The second, “Drowning the Flame,” explores a love triangle between Tupac, Jada Pinkett and Will Smith and will show for one day only at Cain Park9s amphitheater June 19.

Not the ordinary, regurgitated pitches for plays portraying a chronological look at a celebrity’s life, Oatman’s unique approach to two of Tupac’s stories, as he sees them, are concepts he knows are good because at the top of them they say ‘by Michael Oatman.’

"That’s how I know they’re good. I’ve written about 16 or 17 full-length plays and they’re all good,” the ex-reporter turned playwright confirmed.

"We’re starting to get into that period where people from our generation are starting to tell our stories. I love August Wilson but August Wilson doesn’t tell the story of people 35 and under. So, I think [Cleveland] should come out just to check out somebody who meant something to our generation. I love all those old greats and all of that but I grew up on Pac and Biggie. "

So, what’s Oatman’s opinion on one of the oldest rap debate’s to date – Who’s the better rapper, Biggie or Tupac? “Tupac, not even close,” Oatman said without pause. “I think Biggie was a better person in a lot of ways. Tupac always had an insecurity, always had to prove something. Pac was a little nuts, he was all over, but that’s why we love him. Well, I didn’t know the man, but, that’s my interpretation.”

See Oatman’s interpretation come to life on stage at Karamu this week. Tickets to this event are $8-$20 and are available at Karamu’s box office. For more information call (216) 795-7077.

(NOTE: Play closed June 14, 2009. Still going through development at Karamu and due to strong buzz, will hit the stage once again for a four week run March 2010 under the direction of Terrence Spivey, Karamu's Artistic Director)

Terrence Spivey
Artistic Director
Karamu House
2355 East 89th
Cleveland, OH 44106
Phone: 216-795-7070

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