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Dramatizing Youth Issues

Hartford-Based HartBeat Ensemble Will Stage A Production Focusing On Young People

April 8, 2005
By MELISSA PIONZIO, Courant Staff Writer

Through a new play that combines hip-hop and musical drama, a cast of local teenagers and professional actors is addressing how stress, high expectations and the search for identity and acceptance affect today's youth.

Performed by members of the Hartford-based HartBeat Ensemble, "News to Me" is the second in a series of three work-in-progress versions of the play that focuses on a diverse group of young people who are given the chance to create their own TV news program.

Using drama, music and poetry as their vehicles for expression, the cast will give a free performance tonight at 6:30 at Liberty Christian Church, 23 Vine St. The Men of Color Initiative and Hartford Communities that Care are sponsors of the show.

After the performance, youths from Stump the Violence, a program of Hartford Communities that Care, will lead a talk-back session with audience members. Feedback from this session will be incorporated in the final work-in-progress version, which will be performed at Hartford Stage in May. In November, the final version will be performed at the Charter Oak Cultural Center.

Hartford resident Julia B. Rosenblatt,who founded HartBeat in 2001 with fellow actors Gregory Tate and Steven Ginsburg, said most of the play's teenage participants were her students at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts where she teaches theater. Participation in "News to Me" not only gives the students experience with a professional theater group, it gives them a say in the development of the script, she said.

"Our education program [at the academy] is to teach youth and adults to use theater as a tool for social, political and personal change," said Rosenblatt. "Our main stage shows are about telling stories of everyday people and the lives they live."

During a rehearsal this week, the cast worked on a scene in which the teenage characters, overseen by governing adults played by Tate and Rosenblatt, tried to decide on the topic for a TV news story. Since the backgrounds of the characters differ, finding commonality is, at first, a challenge. The teenage characters include Deandre, the black city kid who is trying to escape the streets; Kristy, the white suburbanite who feels the stress of having to be perfect; Danni, a Latina trumpet player who struggles with her identity; and Jack (portrayed by Ginsburg), a white liberal who continually rebels against authority.

Eventually, the characters agree to report on the stresses and unrealistic expectations of standardized testing in public schools.

Raymond Fraser, a student at the city's classical magnet school, said he likes how the show brings diverse people together to discuss important issues.

"For the most part, the character of Deandre is accurate," said Fraser, 16. "I would only wish that his poverty was able to be portrayed more than it is so that the audience can picture that he is from the bottom of society."

Brigid Pasco, 16, a student at New Britain High School and the academy, said she hopes the audience will see that her character is not as shallow as she appears.

"I have been making her stereotyped," she said of Kristy. "She's got to be deeper, and I think she does open up. She faces emotional and spiritual crises that are caused by all the stress in her life."

Capital Community College student Denise Poventud,19, a Hartford resident who portrays Danni, said the play gives the teens a voice.

"My character is a brilliant trumpet player, but she can't take the test," said Poventud, who will attend Trinity College in the fall. "It takes more than a test to show how intelligent or creative you are. They don't have a test for creativity."

Stage manager Anastasia Anderson, who attends Weaver High School and the academy, said the experience has been fun and educational. Although the characters are stereotypes, she thinks they are largely portrayed accurately.

"I don't know how I feel about stereotypes, but there is some truth to them," said Anderson, 16. "That truth, people can see it. It's cliché, but it's true too."

In addition to the actors, the play includes rap lyrics by Pat "KlockWize" O'Sullivan, 16, a student at Hall High School in West Hartford. For information on the performance, call the HartBeat Ensemble at 860-548-9144.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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