Teachings from a Local Theater Group

Staff writer Natalie Charette ’19 explores what a local theater group, HartBeat Ensemble, can teach Trinity students about their own surroundings.

On Saturday, Oct. 15, the HartBeat Ensemble, a community theater group based in Hartford, performed “Frog Hollow, A State of Mind,” a production inspired by the neighborhood surrounding Trinity College. This production was the third of a series called The Neighborhood Investigative Project.

In 2001, Steven Raider-Ginsburg, Julia B. Rosenblatt and Gregory R. Tate founded HartBeat Ensemble with the goal of uniting communities despite differences of class and race. These disparities are all too obvious in a city such as Hartford, where ethnic diversity, income and opportunity are inconsistent with much of affluent Connecticut. The ensemble strives to challenge these divisions and inspire conversation for change.

The Neighborhood Investigative Project exemplifies HartBeat Ensemble’s dedication to spur change within Hartford’s communities. Through this project, the ensemble partners with various community groups in Hartford and interviews residents so that they can voice their concerns. The issues identified are than given a narrative on stage. HartBeat hopes to perform in each of Hartford’s communities, including neighborhoods such as Parkville and Asylum Hill.

Hannah Simms and Cindy Martinez co-directed Frog Hollow, A State of Mind. Martinez also wrote the play, bringing the stories of Frog Hollow residents to the stage. The directors interviewed over 30 residents in Frog Hollow, who expressed concerns such as traffic safety, respect for diversity and distrust of the police. According to Simms, the characters are either directly based upon one person, or are composites of different individuals interviewed. Simms stated that the overarching goal of this project is to “celebrate the uniqueness and glory” of each of the neighborhoods while also “identifying challenges and a spark for change.”

The production was performed at the Studio at Billings Forge on Broad Street, located right in Frog Hollow. The group strives to perform in each neighborhood off which the production is based. Simms emphasized that this project is a community effort, and the community partners are crucial for both the interview process and implementing change. Additionally, the group works with local artists from the area for an even more authentic message. Martinez, for example, actually resides in Frog Hollow.

Eight individuals, two of whom are alumni of the Ensemble’s Youth Play Institute, brought the story of Frog Hollow to life in the Saturday and Sunday productions. The first half of the production was a play, segueing into the discussion portion, where the audience engaged in an interactive discussion to envision change within the community.

It is needless to say that there is often a disconnect between Trinity students and the surrounding Hartford community. In fact, many students are likely unaware that the surrounding neighborhood is even called Frog Hollow. They may take a day trip to the capital or enjoy a meal at a restaurant downtown, but few students take stock in the lives of everyday Hartford residents, who face problems with which many Trinity students struggle to sympathize. It is important that Bantams are aware of groups such as the HartBeat Ensemble, so that they too can feel the pulse of Hartford beyond the campus of Trinity.

By: Natalie Charette ’19

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