A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess, directed by Robert Ginty, with Bishop, Kalen Hayman, Juice and Peter Nelson. Presented by Hart House Theatre (7 Hart House Circle). Opens September 15 and runs to September 25, Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee September 25 at 2 pm. $15, stu $12. 416-978-8668. Rating: NNNNN
Bishop loves a good challenge. The thuggish Scarborough-based rapper is known for his freestyle battling skills, vapourizing other MCs with single punchlines in arenas ranging from CKLN's underground radio show Power Move and local hiphop clubs with his crew Section 6 to BET's weekly rhyme showdown.
While he's done some acting, most notably alongside Ray Liotta and Busta Rhymes in the sleeper hit movie Narc, Bishop knew playing Alex, the lead in a new stage version of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, wouldn't be a walk in Queen's Park.
"I looked at the script and then I read it a couple times, and I was like, 'This is hard shit! The dedication I'd need to put into it is gonna be crazy,'" he tells me from the driver's side of his Cadillac El Dorado. "But it's something that nobody else has ever done - at least at this level, this calibre.
"This is challenging, and something no one will ever expect me to do. So I'm doin' it."
The show will feature all types of lyrical flava, a soundtrack that alternates between the ominous classical music that fuelled Stanley Kubrick's film version and beats from the likes of Public Enemy and Lloyd Banks. Burgess's made-up Nadsat language is spat like street slang rather than London cockney. No doubt this'll be some crunk hiphop shit, but Bishop insists he's in this more for the dramatic side of things.
"I wasn't trying to be the big rapper," he says. "I'm really focusing on the acting and the challenge of actually doing theatre, of being somebody else for 80 minutes."
From the glimpse I catch of rehearsal, the play isn't shy on the violence that pervades much of Kubrick's film. But Bishop's Alex will be portrayed more sympathetically.
"Kubrick didn't really focus on feeling sorry for Alex," the big rapper explains. "He focused more on his being a demon or some shit. But that's why Burgess wrote the play, because he wasn't happy with the movie."
Hopefully, Burgess is looking down with pride on this "urban musical" retooling of his stage vision, which calls to mind adaptations like the hilarious Job: The Hip-Hop Musical and MTV's Carmen: A Hip-Hopera, which starred Beyoncé and 8 Mile star Mekhi Phifer. Clockwork promises to be more like the latter, and not only because of its emotional weight.
Director Robert Ginty gained notoriety with MTV mock-boy-band series 2GE+HER. He's also a long-time character actor who's appeared in everything from Matlock to Murder She Wrote.
"Robert's a great director," says Bishop. "He'll tell you straight. He's also the only guy on The Love Boat who ever came on the boat and caused a murder."
Though he admits to being a bit nervous, Bishop's amped about the show, and proud of the further diversity it'll add to his career.
"Every move I make has got to be a power move."