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Jihad Milhem as Horatio and Lenne Klingaman as Hamlet in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (2017, photo by Jennifer Koskinen)

Author: Heidi Schmidt

Nine Questions for Jihad Milhem

We asked CSF actor Jihad Milhem about Shakespeare and Hip Hop, dream roles, and current projects.

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s 60th season has come and gone, and we’ve turned our attention away from the Rippon and toward Colorado classrooms. Starting on September 26, several CSF actors and teaching artists will tour The Comedy of Errors (for grades 3-5) and Julius Caesar (grades 6-12) to schools throughout the state.

One of these artists is Jihad Milhem, who is playing Caesar, Antony, two Dromios, and a handful of other characters in these touring shows. Director Wendy Franz (2016’s Equivocation) cast Jihad for his “preparation and text work with Shakespeare. Coupled with his commitment and generosity, these make him a wonderful collaborator both on stage and in the classroom.”

We recently caught up with Jihad to chat about his dream roles, the connections between Shakespeare and Hip Hop, and what else he’s working on now.

CSF audiences have seen you on the Rippon and in the University Theatre. Can you remind them of some of your recent roles?

This past summer, I played Horatio in both Hamlet and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead in the indoor theatre, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester in the original practices production of Henry VI, part 3 on the Rippon. I also appeared in Troilus & Cressida two summers ago as Paris. I’ve been performing with the CSF school tour productions of Julius Caesar and The Comedy of Errors this past spring and this current school year. I’ll also be teaching a workshop we’re calling Beats & the Bard for kids on Saturday Sept. 30th.

What are you most looking forward to about teaching the Beats & the Bard workshop?

Sharing my love of Hip Hop and finding all the links between that world and the world of Shakespeare. I think people would be surprised just how much Hip Hop as a culture has in common with the culture that Shakespeare came from and cultivated. Let alone the inherent rhythmic parallels rapping and iambic pentameter have.

What came first for you – Shakespeare or Hip Hop?

Hip Hop. From a very young age I grew up on it and identified with it. Once I began to act luckily the verse was already in me-thanks to growing up hearing MC’s verses as a child and emulating it myself.

Do you see them as two different things or two sides of the same coin?

For me the rhythm and culture of Shakespeare coincides with the rhythm and culture of Hip Hop. Both prize verbal dexterity, rely on truth in expression, focus on narrative, and demand something of their audience, while still catering to them.

What else are you working on around town?

I am currently working on You on the Moors Now with The Catamounts (through Sep. 30), and I’ll be doing Guards at The Taj with Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company this January and February.

You’re also a playwright, aren’t you?

I am. I wrote Mosque a few years ago in Philadelphia and am fortunate to have another go at it. I am working on a staged reading of with Fearless Theatre in Denver (Oct. 13-14, Arapahoe Library District in Littleton).

Do you have a favorite Shakespeare role you’ve played?

Playing Gloucester in Henry VI was so much fun and so challenging, definitely my favorite so far.

Do you have a dream role you’d love to play someday?

Stanley Kowalski from A Streetcar Named Desire and Richard III, it’s a tie.

What are you likely to be doing when you’re NOT acting/rehearsing/teaching/playwriting?

When I’m not theatring I can be found driving for Uber and Lyft, consuming art, or spending time with my partner, Allison.

More Information: Shakespeare & Violence Prevention school tour

More Information: Shakespeare & Violence Prevention school tour

Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s touring program uses live performance and the latest school violence research – students improve their Shakespeare literacy AND learn intervention strategies they can use effectively when they see mistreatment happening around them.

How does it work? Professional actors from CSF perform an abridged Shakespeare play onsite at your school (no field trips required), followed by classroom workshops that help students connect situations in the play to situations they face every day. Students can step into the shoes of characters from the play and roleplay creative solutions.

Over 83,000 Colorado students have experienced this innovative program – shouldn’t yours be next?

Learn More