KATE BRENNER/Herald photo

A University of Wisconsin hip-hop-based learning community bowed to a full house in its first theater showcase Saturday.

The one-hour production, titled "Group," featured The First Wave Spoken Word and Urban Arts Learning Community's 15 students in an accumulation of spoken word, dance and theater.

In its first semester at UW, First Wave aims to expand diversity through art while also developing individual talent, Program Director Josh Healey said.

"The students decided to call the show ‘Group' because it's almost a group therapy process," Healey said. "Performing is often a very healing process for both the performers and the audience."

The production quickly filled the Lathrop Hall Margaret H'Doubler's 280 seats, Healey said, and about 200 more people were turned away before the show started at 7 p.m. A similar event in a larger venue is being planned for those who were unable to see the First Wave students perform.

"[The show] was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen," Healey said. "I was just in awe of the students. They took it to another level. Everyone should experience this."

First Wave is the United States' first university-based hip-hop program of its kind. The program incorporates hip-hop because its culture represents the power of unity and individual voices through art form, Healey said.

According to UW freshman Daniel Dharam, a break dancer who performed to "This Woman's Worth" by Maxwell, hip-hop not only promotes diversity, but is a tool for empowerment.

"A lot of people were scared to come to school here because they knew it wasn't a diverse environment," said UW freshman Lana Simpson, who also performed Saturday. "That's why it was so fun meeting people you don't have to explain yourself to. We are all artists."

The production featured segments like "Invocations," a seven-student act that "welcomes liberty," and closed with the group sitting in a circle to inspire change, according to Simpson.

"The finale started with a quote from Allen Ginsberg: ‘I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,' and used a refrain from a Roger Bonair-Agard's poem," UW freshman Adam Levin said. "The refrain says, ‘We who…' over and over. It's kind of a unity thing."

Levin performed a storytelling piece about a man and woman who fell in love, though he leaves her when she gives birth to their stillborn son. His entire Witte Hall floor came to the performance.

"I'm like a hermit," Levin said with a laugh. "So this is an amazing thing — when people can love and respect what your love is. The program itself helped me break out of my shell."

First Wave requires two classes per week, but rehearsals often exceed that. The week before the show's premiere, Healey said, the students worked daily four-hour rehearsals.

"If the week before a show could be a sound, it would be a crazy, shrieking cat noise." Simpson said. "It's intense."

The show concluded with a standing ovation and the audience response exceeded everyone's expectations, Levin said.

"When the lights hit you know there's no turning back," Simpson said. "Just focus."