For students of theatre and sociology, the world of rap music may not seem like the next step after graduation. For GW alum Travis Helwig, it is just another part of his creative process.
“Hip hop is something I found that, I don’t know, I can really just have fun with it,” said Helwig, a graduate student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
“Big Move, Tiny Mix-tape” is the product of this find: an autobiographical rap album that charts his path from his humble hometown to the nation’s capital to the boroughs of New York City. Between samplings of Johnny Cash, Third Eye Blind and Matchbox 20, Helwig interjects his own humorous freestyle and a beat that was created four years ago on his laptop.
“I recorded this two weeks before moving to New York about this move in my life,” said Helwig, a Stamford, Conn. native.
The move was one that took him away from the world of GW, where Helwig was a staple on the arts scene. Besides writing and directing a play for Generic Theatre Company last Spring and acting with various other theatre groups on campus, Helwig was mostly found doing improv during midnight shows with receSs. During his four years in the notorious comedy group, he became used to performing for sold out audiences of drunk kids who all knew his name.
“ReceSs had this freak ability to get large crowds to see us perform,” said Helwig. “So maybe I was a bit lazier; I didn’t have to work that hard and people would still laugh.”
Now, the tables have turned. Helwig is putting in a lot of effort by doing rap and stand-up around his new home in Brooklyn, N.Y. and taking classes with an improvisation studio.
“I could be up there in front of just four or five people, and I’m really having to prove myself,” he said.
When Helwig and fellow receSs members Kevin Mead and Darren Miller began experimenting with freestyle last year, an art form was born.
Last May, the boys collaborated with Paul Briganti, a New York-based comedian, to create a spoof on Asher Roth’s infamous song, “I love College”. The Youtube hit featured Helwig, Mead and Miller rapping about their love of deli meats.
Back in New York, Helwig is back to work with Briganti. He is a contributing writer for Briganti’s film company, Landline, and is working on a script to bring to Comedy Central.
“Here in Brooklyn, this is the place to be if you’re young and excited about being creative,” Helwig said.
And as he starts to immerse himself in the all-encompassing world of graduate school for theatre, screen and TV writing, Helwig has no hesitation when it comes to discussing his future plans.
“I need comedy to keep myself sane,” he said.
Helwig will return to the Betts Theatre to perform at a receSs alumni show on Oct. 2
Amy Rhodin contributed to this article