‘Into the Side of a Hill’ brings step to The Rep

by Patsy Isenberg

Though “Into the Side of a Hill” made its world premier just this February at the FIM Flint Repertory Theatre, playwright James Anthony Tyler had been thinking about writing it since 2016.

According to the playbill, Tyler said the idea “stuck with me” for a few years, even as he composed a different play before he set to work on penning this one. 

“Into the Side of a Hill” is directed and co-choreographed by Ken-Matt Martin, and takes place at a historically Black college/university (HBCU) in 2004. In an interview with EVM’s Canisha Bell, Tyler pointed out that despite the passage of time, there are similarities between the early 2000s and today.

“We have two prevalent wars raging right now, we’re in a presidential election cycle, and it was the same way in 2004,” he said. “That same type of anxiety about the election was happening in 2004 at HBCUs … and I thought it would be interesting for drama.”

The Plot 

The play features six characters, all young Black fraternity brothers, rehearsing a step routine to be performed in a competition on homecoming weekend in a few days. 

There’s only one set on stage and no intermission, and as the men rehearse, conversation develops around difficult topics like war and mental illness. Friction builds, but intervening, energetic stepping occurs as well, breaking up the drama with moments of levity and laughter. 

Is the play a musical, a drama, or what?

Though “Into the Side of a Hill” isn’t considered a musical, it did require choreography, a task shared by Martin and cast member Victor Musoni. And while the play has many dramatic moments, it also includes a lot of funny repartee, with the audience audibly laughing along throughout the action. So, this reviewer may go so far as to label it a “dramedy.” 

Actor and choreographer Victor Musoni in a scene from “Into the Side of a Hill” at the FIM Flint Repertory Theatre in Flint, Mich. (Photos by Mike Naddeo)

Tyler told EVM he hopes Flint audiences will laugh, cry, and enjoy the play’s choreography, but he also hopes they leave wanting to talk about its themes.

“Inspiring conversations is paramount,” he said.

A note about stepping, from the playbill

The playbill for “Into the Side of a Hill” includes an informative history and description of stepping, defined as “a percussive, highly-energetic art form” by professional step company Step Afrika!

According to the playbill, stepping was first a form of communication and storytelling, originating as “gumboot” dancing in the coal mines of South Africa. In the 17th century here in the United States, enslaved people used drums to communicate, but when drums were later outlawed, they instead used their bodies to create the sounds. 

Throughout the decades those intricate musical sounds became influenced by jazz and tap to give rise to the stepping of today, which has been adopted by HBCU fraternities and sororities to “show pride, unity, and togetherness as a group.” 

Watching the stepping performances seemed as enjoyable for the audience as it was for the actors — not to mention it was very impressive to this stepping novice. 

There are several more performances of “Into the Side of a Hill” scheduled for the weekend of February 15 to 18. For more information, or to get tickets, visit tickets.thefim.org/side-of-a-hill.

Author: East Village Magazine

A Non-profit, Community News Magazine Since 1976

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