THEATER: HARTFORD STAGE
BREAKDANCING SHAKESPEARE 10- Romeo and Juliet
Three Bloomfield Teens Summer at Hartford Stage
Summers were made for kids. When I was a child, all I ever looked forward too was dog-lazy days of my summer vacation and time away from school. I recall those days either spent at Ocean Beach Park in New London, CT., Bloomfield’s town recreation program making leather Keychains, or just languishing away in front of the Zenith TV as we very slowly awaited September and our return back to academia and its usual awaiting theme “What did you do this Summer”? For a trio of youths, from the beautiful hamlet of Bloomfield, Connecticut, this “Summer of ’16” will be one that they will truly remember. For Tamara Graham, for Jahleah Harris, for Asaundra Linette Hill- for these 3 girls – it will not be about the Summer Rio Olympics, nor presidential conventions, or even trips to the shore, but a summer remembered for when this trio of Bloomfield “ambassadors” took the center stage of the Hartford Stage, in an all teen production of “Romeo and Juliet”, and changed the world and themselves forever.
From the get go- let me state this is not a review but a statement on hard work, achievement, and admirable commendation to an organization, “The Hartford Stage”, for offering such a rewarding introductory career path for young folks in theater. In fact for the past ten years “Hartford Stage Young Company”, in conjunction with the Greater Hartford Arts Council’s Neighborhood Studios, has put forth this creative 6 week summer “Breakdancing Shakespeare” program for area teenagers between 14-18, with its key concept – to stomp out acts of violence and replace it with dance- in this case breakdancing- what a novel idea! Speaking of novels, besides students learning dance techniques, acting, memorizing lines, and movement, they have all-day workshops with master teaching artists, including a career-building curriculum that teaches resume writing, financial literacy, interviewing, multimedia communication, teamwork, civic responsibility plus they also receive an intro to the “Bard” himself- William Shakespeare!
It fact it was just last year that the Hartford Stage presented “Kiss Me Kate” and we heard Cole Porter’s paean to the ‘”Sweet Swan of Avon” – (England not Connecticut) – “Brush up your Shakespeare, Start quoting him now, Brush up your Shakespeare, and the “folks” you will wow!!
Who knew Porter was psychic. For those of you “fresh” to The Hartford Stage’s hip-hop take on “Romeo and Juliet” – here’s the “beef” – think a cross between – “West Side Story”, “Flash Dance” and ” Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo” and there you have it -“Breakdancing Shakespeare” – Gangs at conflict, be it the “Jets vs Sharks” or as presented, the breakdancing feuding “Montagues vs Capulets”. Stuck in the middle- our two star crossed young folks in love, “Romeo” (Jerry Hamilton) and “Juliet” (Jahleah Harris) and how their “young love” will cause tragic results for everyone involved.
I am literally transfixed by these young folks, not only with their breakdancing skills but delivering flawless Shakespearean soliloquies – from Romeo’s “What light through yonder window breaks?” to Juliet’s “What’s in a name?” We and a beaming wide-eyed audience are impressed by the “good work” being done here and it translates to what is projected on stage. Please forgive me these observations – Asaundra Linette Hill who portrays Juliet’s Nurse, has an innate comedic timing whenever she is on stage- you can see she loves performing- and all eyes are on her whenever she appears. Both Jahleah Harris as our “Juliet” and Tamara Graham’s portrayal of “Lady Capulet” offered compelling solid -stellar performances. I freely admit when all three of our Bloomfield student “ambassadors” appeared on stage together I definitely beamed with pride, both as a town resident and as a member of Bloomfield’s Board of Education, noting that these three young ladies are excellent examples of how all our students are successfully achieving academically in our schools and are well prepared to seek out fame and fortune wherever life will take them.
I have such admiration for all these young adults, think about it- in just six weeks Director Nina Pinchin and Choreographer Brandon Couloute has taken “theater newbies” and turned them into rising stars. These young folks are standing on the same “Holy of Holies” stage as the likes of Hal Holbrook, Elaine Stritch, Kevin Bacon, Olympia Dukakis, Chita Rivera, Ben Vereen, Anastasia Barzee, Johanna Morisson, and Natalie Brown – Well let me tell you, besides Jahleah Harris (Juliet) 16, Asaundra Linette Hill (Nurse) 17 and Tamara Graham (Lady Capulet/Apothecary) 15 who all attend Bloomfield High School, they are joined on stage by cast-mates, Jerry Hamilton (Romeo), Isaiah Artis, Jarriel DeJesus, Jashaun Ford-Ryals, Marquise Hardwick, Marcus Infantas, Mu Kue, Geo Mantilla, Cristina Menendez, Saige Rago, Lili St. Amand and Emma Webb- these young folks are indeed “wowing” as Cole Porter decreed – a grateful cheering “full-house” audience of all ages!!
When asked what the “Breakdancing Shakespeare” summer program has meant to her, “Juliet”, Jahleah Harris, who participates on the BHS track team and is an all-state champion for the long-jump and 4×400, excitedly extolled, “I loved this program, – it really opened my eyes to what else is out there for me. For the last several years besides my school work, I have lived track morning, noon and night – but now I have choices than just track that I can pursue including a career in acting and it all started here at the Hartford Stage”. Bravo all!
Howard Steven Frydman is General Manager and Executive Director of BATV – Channels 5, 95 & 96 and a member of the CCC. Please feel free to contact Mr. Frydman with your thoughts and ideas at Howardbatv@aol.com.