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Eight years ago, Meshaun Labrone had a homework assignment.
He was finishing his Bachelor’s degree at Florida International University. “You had to find someone you admired and write a play about them,” he says by phone.
Labrone’s script, The Hate U Gave, paid tribute to Tupac Shakur, the rapper, writer, and actor who was shot to death in 1996. A company in Labrone’s native Miami, Ground Up & Rising, picked up Labrone’s script and staged it in 2009, but Labrone thought the show could go deeper.
That piece evolved into his one-man show, Right to Remain… The Life and Mind of Typac Shakur. Labrone estimates he’s performed it 30 to 40 times now, including a run off of London’s West End last November.
Setting the piece during Shakur’s 1995 term at Clinton Correctional Facility on a sexual assault charge, Labrone used his knowledge of the rapper’s body of work to project himself into Shakur’s persona. Shakur’s love of Shakespeare and Herman Melville is one of the less familiar elements of the rapper’s identity that Labrone illuminates. “I put him in solitary confinement. Being a former corrections officer myself, I understood exactly what happens to the minds of normal human beings if you put them in isolation,” he says.
Labrone’s own life experiences inform his show’s critique of our dysfunctional justice system. Three years as a Florida jail guard was more than enough for him.
“I vowed I would never again play a role in the prison-industrial complex,” he says. “Rehabilitation—-they like to call it that, but you’re not correcting anything, and you’re not changing the attitude or behavior of no one. All you’re doing is creating slaves, mindless beasts. You’re creating savages… that’s what the prison system is, in this country today.”
Though the show is a biography of sorts of a musician, it is not a musical, Labrone emphasizes. Everybody thinks theyre going to hear all this rap. But theres just one twominute section where I use his lyrics as an urban soliloquy. But he’s speaking, not rapping. Everything else you hear in this show is coming directly from him, to me, to tell us what’s really going on.”
Right to Remain… The Life and Mind of Tupac Shakur opens tonight at Fort Fringe’s Bedroom venue at 9:45 p.m. A full schedule of performances is here.