There isn't an Elizabethan costume in sight, and none of the actors is saying lines in iambic pentameter. But there is a lot of dancing and rapping. At first glance, it's hard to tell that these 18 kids are rehearsing Shakespeare.
The Hartford Stage Young Company, sponsored by the Greater Hartford Arts Council's Neighborhood Studios, is presenting "Breakdancing Shakespeare: The Comedy of Errors" at Hartford Stage on Monday, but with a twist.
Kids 14 to 19 years old perform a modern adaptation of the comedy. The script is shorter than Shakespeare's actual play, and the lines translate to more contemporary language, leaving room for the actors to turn their lines into rap. Breakdancing is an important component of the show and is largely used in fight scenes, with the dances choreographed to convey an anti-violence message.
The two performances Monday, at 6 and 8:30 p.m., come after a competitive audition process, six weeks of rehearsal and intensive training from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day. Tickets are free, but there is a $5 suggested donation, and tickets must be picked up at the Hartford Stage box office before the show.
The actors and dancers all come from different backgrounds, but they all receive exposure to something new.
"It's an in [to Shakespeare] for them, particularly through hip-hop music," says the show's director, Nina Pinchin. "Many of them don't have breakdancing skills, but across the board, they have exposure to hip-hop. And Shakespeare they generally don't have exposure to."
"The Comedy of Errors" involves two sets of identical twins separated at birth: Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant Dromio, and Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant Dromio. When the Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant meet the family and friends of their twins, their mistaken identities lead to arrests, seduction and chaos.
Pinchin says one goal is to connect the audience to Shakespeare in new ways.
"These productions break through some walls and bring in people who would come to just a breakdancing show, so they also get exposure to Shakespeare," she says.
Participation in the company is open to students from Greater Hartford, introducing everyone to different backgrounds and talents.
"You meet all these new people, and you build really strong friendships," says Eileen Cannon, 16, of Marlborough, who plays one of the Dromio twins.
For 20-year-old Jason Taylor, the show's assistant choreographer, "Breakdancing Shakespeare" helped spark his interest in theater and dance.
"This program is life-changing," he says. "I was about to go down the wrong path with the wrong group of people, but ... this just 360'd [changed] my whole life."
Pinchin says the purpose of the show is deeper than teaching kids Shakespeare and breakdancing. It gives the participants a new outlet to express themselves.
"[They] gain a sense of self and confidence within their bodies," she says, "and that's so valuable."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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