A Letter From A Black Artistic Director
Last Thursday I was part of a Zoom session with ten other Black men from various backgrounds while working on the Fatherhood Manologues, an incredible My People Clinical Services project HartBeat Ensemble is collaborating on. The project will initially facilitate and share short stories about fatherhood through the lens of Black and Brown men in Hartford. The first round of stories begins filming this week and will be released digitally on Father's Day, June 21st.
During this session, we took a moment to breathe deeply together, to quickly process the recent murder of George Floyd. This took all of five minutes. Because we had work to do. Because we knew we were there for each other. Because we knew.
In the course of this session, these Black kings (in the words of our sister and project co-producer Candace Feldman) performed their stories for the group. We laughed. We nodded. We testified. We snapped our fingers. We played a few dozens. We gave each other the love and fortitude to sleep a few more hours than we might have that night, so we could be prepared for the next day's onslaught in the war on Black Lives.
It amazed me how we were able to process so much pain, rage and terror with such seeming ease. That word "seeming" rankles of course. Because it is a matter of course that Black people will process this legacy of violent White supremacy and turn it into something that can sustain us, something irreducibly beautiful and life-affirming, something not unlike Wilson's Herald Loomis shining like new money.
Many organizations and corporations are releasing statements. The italics are not a criticism of these offers of solidarity, but an interrogation. What does a statement mean when the attack on Black lives is seemingly rampaging through the United States in the third decade of the 21st century? I know it's important to engage with constituents and show them moral support, but there is not enough moral support in the world that will convince this black man on this day that any organization -- especially the historically White domains of non-profits and commercial entities -- can or will DO anything to stop the systematic destruction of indigenous and brown and black bodies in these United States.
As you can probably tell, I'm tired. So tired. But deep in my soul I know there is a small thing to do. Many small things. Small acts. Small acts that create small cracks in the kneecaps on our necks. And those cracks will provide the opening for the next progression in dismantling the structures that criminalize, incarcerate and kill Black people.
So here's what HartBeat Ensemble will do.
As part of the Movement for Black Lives' week of action, this Thursday evening at 8pm we will hold virtual space specifically for Greater Hartford-area BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) artists, activists, students -- anyone who needs an BIPOC affinity space for strategizing, decompressing and healing in these traumatic times. We will provide more information and a videoconferencing link within 48 hours through this mailing list and our facebook page. This virtual space will recur at regular intervals for the foreseeable future.
Next we will be exploring the creation of a virtual space for local, self-identified White people to strategize around how to "show up" for BIPOC and commit to practicing anti-racism in their everyday lives. More information on this space will be forthcoming in the next two weeks.
There's nothing innovative here. Nothing that hasn't already been pioneered by various Indigenous and African cultures. Nothing that isn't probably already being practiced by the women who are leading Taiwan, Finland, Germany and New Zealand to successful COVID-19 outcomes.
These affinity spaces are two small acts. Tiny, tiny acts that may create the tiniest of cracks in the foundation of White supremacy. We are not to be congratulated. This is our job as theatermakers and as citizen artists. To tell our collective stories with such clarity and wonder that we begin to see each other, ourselves and ultimately our collective transcendence. Sometimes that means creating space and then listening to our community's stories instead of telling them. And perhaps if we listen deeply enough, we can come out the other side showing our shine.
We'll be in touch soon. In the meantime please visit the Movement for Black Lives for more information about this week's Call to Action.
We've got work to do, y'all. Let's get it done.
Theater For Change
Founded in 2001, HartBeat Ensemble's mission is to create provocative theater that connects our community beyond traditional barriers of race, gender, class and geography.
HartBeat Ensemble is the only institution in Hartford that is consistently using theater to speak powerfully across different generations, races, populations and interest groups. As an ensemble of artist-activists, we create as well as present innovative productions based on critical civic issues. HartBeat offers audiences the chance to experience and respond to the work they have just seen through live performance and guided conversations. Our success lies in whether the piece actually led people to take action toward greater justice or more freedom. Was each audience member able to look at the topic in a new light, from a slightly different perspective or with greater understanding? HartBeat’s original, full-length creative works, including the award-winning Flipside, the critically acclaimed Jimmy & Lorraine, and this year's sold-out hit Pegao by Ensemble member Cin Martinez. HartBeat continues to inspire the next generation of leaders to create change for a better world through its Youth Play Institute.
HartBeat is an artist-led, artist-driven company dedicated to building community partnerships and helping to integrate the arts into our community’s civic agenda. We continue to:
serve as an intersection for innovative contemporary art and community engagement,
play a bold leadership role in positioning art as a catalyst for community change and collaborating with others to realize a shared vision for the community and the arts,
provide youth-focused training opportunities that inspire and empower young people to make a difference in their lives and the world around them;
serve as an incubator of non-traditional and contemporary art, and a home for a broad spectrum of CT and other artists; and
share a physical space that is open to artists and community.
In 2013, HartBeat moved into the Carriage House Theater located on Farmington Avenue in Hartford. Our home provides an opportunity for HartBeat to produce a season of events that extends beyond our mainstage and education productions and to create a unique space for artists and the community to gather and experience live performance as well as engage in community conversations. Click Carriage House Rentals for more information on our community rental program!
Godfrey L. Simmons Jr., Artistic Director
Simmons is an award-winning actor, producer, director, and playwright who has spent thirty years amplifying the voices of marginalized people and communities. He brings with him an extensive background working with ensembles, as an actor (Off-Broadway and regional theaters), teacher, director, playwright and producer. In 2012, he co-founded Civic Ensemble, a regional theatre in Ithaca, NY. He was a Producing Artist for Off-Broadway’s Epic Theatre Ensemble for four years, appearing in a dozen productions. He also co-wrote and starred with Brandt Adams in a documentary play about the election of President Barack Obama, Dispatches From (A)mended America after interviewing 100 Southerners about the election. He won the 1999 Audelco Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance opposite Leslie Uggams in The Old Settler at Primary Stages.
In addition to teaching acting at Cornell, he is a lifetime member of Ensemble Studio Theatre and sits on the board of the Network of Ensemble Theaters. Godfrey is married to theater artist Sarah K. Chalmers, also co-artistic director of Civic Ensemble, and they have a young son, Samuel.
HartBeat’s Education Programs, inspired by Augusto Boal's Theater of the Oppressed, teaches theater as form of conflict resolution, civic engagement and deeper learning.
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