R Star

Rickerby Hinds ’94: The Playwright

By Sophia Stuart

Professor of Theatre Rickerby Hinds ’94 is a pioneer in using hip-hop as a primary language for the stage. But it wasn’t until the Honduras-born writer moved to South Central Los Angeles at age 13 that he got his first taste of the musical genre — on the school bus.

“Two boys were rapping the lyrics of ‘Rapper’s Delight’ from the Sugarhill Gang, and I had no idea what was happening,” said Hinds. “It was a whole new language; talking with rhythm. I was amazed. I think that’s what made me into a writer. I was an outsider — forced to observe, to pick up on cultural nuances, in order to fit in. I learned quickly, and those skills became my creative tools.”

Hinds uses these tools in what has become his best-known play, “Dreamscape,” based on the killing of Riverside teen Tyisha Miller at the hands of local police. The work was conceived and developed at UC Riverside against the backdrop of societal fury that led to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Dreamscape” is a revolutionary response to police violence both in content and form, using dance, music, beatboxing, spoken word, and graffiti art to tell the story of the tragic incident through the eyes of Myeisha Mills, the main character.

Beginning with his groundbreaking 1989 play, “Daze to Come,” Hinds’ artistic goal has been to harness the power of art to effect change. Civil unrest, racism, police brutality, and oppression are recurrent themes throughout his work.

“It was a whole new language; talking with rhythm — I was amazed. I think that’s what made me into a writer.”

“I went into my son’s room on the day Trayvon Martin was killed and looked at him sleeping,” said Hinds. “Anyone with a black son counts down the days until he passes the danger zone, age 25, when the level of likelihood that he will be murdered, or imprisoned, decreases to a level we can live with. I draw on that feeling in my work. I wanted to communicate what that’s like.”

“Dreamscape” received six NAACP Theatre Award nominations in 2016, winning best director, best male lead, and best female lead. Post-production just wrapped on a film adaptation, “My Name is Myeisha.” Though the movie’s $200,000 budget is small by Hollywood standards, Hinds said he plans to submit the film to festivals, including the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, in the hopes of finding a distributor.

But the artist and educator isn’t stopping there. Hinds said he wants to establish a film, animation, and digital content studio at UCR to help others tell their own stories.

“It’s still in the planning stage, but we’re going to create this on a soundstage in the Inland Empire,” he said. “We’re going to tell these stories, give a voice to this place and its people.”