The Q Brothers, JQ and GQ
(© Bill Burlingham)
The Q Brothers, JQ and GQ
(© Bill Burlingham)
"I believe in funkin' it up!" exclaims Barbara Gaines, founder and artistic director of Chicago Shakespeare Theater. The recipient of this year's 2008 Regional Tony Award, the theater has established a reputation for high quality productions of the Bard's works that are not afraid to take risks. "There are always a few people, the purists, who get very angry," says Gaines. "That's fine, as long as we continue to do work that's from the heart. We can't be scared; we can't be worried about whether or not the audience will come. That's the way to kill art."

Gaines has ambitious goals for the company, including starting up a capital campaign, building a new theater, and creating both an international festival of children's theater and a festival of "Shakespeare in the Americas." They will also continue to develop new works, such as the upcoming July staged reading of Karen Zacarías' Romeo y Julieta, starring Elizabeth Peña, at the Theatre at Little Village Lawndale High School.

At Chicago Shakespeare's home base on Navy Pier, the company is now presenting its latest world premiere. Funk It Up About Nothin' is an "ad-rap-tation" of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, created and performed by The Q Brothers: Gregory and Jeffery Qaiyum, who also go by the abbreviated handles "GQ" and "JQ." Remarking on the brothers' work, Gaines states, "They're just so funny with language. They take the plot from Much Ado, shake it up like a martini, spill it out, and suddenly its something totally original."

The Q Brothers previously co-created the international hit, The Bomb-itty of Errors along with Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, and Erik Weiner. That show started out as a school project at New York University's Experimental Theatre Wing, which GQ attended. "At the same time as I was in conservatory acting training, I was on the street with a crew of kids rapping every day," he states. "Everywhere we went, we were freestyling, sitting on stoops, drinking forties, and smoking blunts. That's just what college was at the time. And for Bombitty, we put together conservatory trained actors who could also hold their own doing rap."

DJ Adrienne Sanchez, Elizabeth Ledo, Ericka Ratcliff, GQ,
Postell Pringle, Jackon Doran and JQ in Funk It Up About Nothin'
(© Michael Brosilow)
DJ Adrienne Sanchez, Elizabeth Ledo, Ericka Ratcliff, GQ,
Postell Pringle, Jackon Doran and JQ in Funk It Up About Nothin'
(© Michael Brosilow)
Both brothers -- sons of a Pakistani father and German mother -- were hip-hop fans from an early age. "I was doing head spins at the age of three and our favorite movie was Breakin'," laughs JQ. "Rap was the first kind of music we ever got into." Unlike his brother, JQ didn't set out to become an actor. Instead, he became a professional b-boy, working as a DJ, emcee, beatmaker, producer, and beatboxer. He composed the music for Bomb-itty, which led to working on MTV's Scratch and Burn along with his brother, and two of the other Bomb-itty cast members. That's where he caught the acting bug, and he'll be performing in Funk It Up alongside GQ and fellow cast members Jackson Doran, Elizabeth Ledo, Postell Pringle, Ericka Ratcliffe, and live DJ Adrienne Sanchez.

This adaptation of Shakespeare's play started out as a very literal translation. "We went through line for line and kept it page by page as Shakespeare had it, but made it all rhyme," says GQ. "Then in the next few rounds, we tried to figure out why the scene was in the play, if we needed it, and whenever it wasn't functioning for us in the world we were creating, we gave ourselves the freedom to toss it out." The end result is a play that has a lot of familiar elements, but many others have been completely transformed. "Instead of soldiers coming back from battle, we have a rap group coming back from a rap battle," explains JQ. "In that way, it's modernized, but at the same time there are nods to the original time period, as well."

The brothers' master plan is to eventually adapt all of Shakespeare's works into the hip-hop idiom. "We'd like to do Mad Summer Night's Dream and then a tragedy like Jamlet or Mack Daddy Beth," says GQ. But they also think they might try their hands at other writers, like Pushkin or Kafka. According to GQ, "Metamorphosis would make a slick one-person MC show with this crazy cockroach."

The duo's creative sensibility seems like an ideal match for Chicago Shakespeare. "We've done some workshops together during the last two years and now we're so excited to have them here," says Gaines. "They're so irreverent, and I just love that. It's dangerous fun." And according to JQ, "Since Chicago Shakes announced they were doing our show, they won a Tony. Now, I'm not saying there's a connection, but I'm not saying there's not!"