“Our work has always been about the city and the community.”
HartBeat Ensemble Co-Founder and former Artistic Director Julia Rosenblatt has worked in the realm of theatre for social change for years. Before co-founding the Asylum Hill-based company, Rosenblatt had been working with fellow co-founders Steven Raider-Ginsburg and Gregory Tate in the San Francisco Mime Troupe. An opportunity opened up in the late 90’s when their plans to move back to the Hartford area aligned, and they decided to create HartBeat Ensemble together. The plan was to dig deep for about a year to figure out exactly what they wanted to do. Five days after moving back to the area, the world changed on September 11th. They immediately jumped into action and started developing street theatre and devised pieces, which would serve as a preview for work to come. The company’s model was, and still is based in community partnerships. Early ones include Catholic Workers, SEIU 1199, and CT Coalition for Peace and Justice. They were “in residence” at Charter Oak Cultural Center for several years before finding their current home at the Carriage House Theater.
For a company that’s only been around less than 20 years, the tight-knit group has amassed decades’ worth of experience through their collaborators. Fellow theatre artists, playwrights, students, and educators are often seen on stage or in the booth. One of these artists is Cin Martinez, a founding member, actress, playwright, and producer. She remembers her first experience with HartBeat fondly: “[It was] a pleasant experience to have a supportive ensemble, a group that was prepared and happy to help me grow professionally,” Martinez said. “[it] created an environment that I felt seen and heard as an artist of color.”
“I have purpose here.”
LAUGH the Poet is another example of a company member who started out doing just one thing at HartBeat but is now a multi-faceted theatre artist. Over the past several years, he’s been involved in a variety of capacities: internships, sound design, stage managing, and acting. It was through the company’s Youth Play Institute that he transitioned from participating to facilitating. Through talking to him, it quickly became clear that he’s never said “no” to anything they’ve asked of him, because he lives and breathes HartBeat. “Theater is a home where you can be yourself.” They used to call him “Tigger” because of his boundless energy, and helped him harness uneasiness into focus and productivity. According to Sanchez, being a part of this group of people he always wants to be around has made him calmer, and taught him how to be more efficient and present. As a bilingual facilitator, he’s been able to connect with students in both Spanish and English through theatre, where they otherwise may not have opportunities to connect on personal and cultural levels. Working with HartBeat gives him the opportunity to work with students that share some of the same characteristics he had, where “disruptive’ energy is accepted.
“Things can’t be the same…ever again.”
Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr. has been the company’s Artistic Director for over seven months, but the present and future of HartBeat Ensemble isn’t all that different from what he had imagined they’d be doing. They had planned a season of productions by or about people of color, and now they are pivoting the company to be even more intentional about anti-racism. In reality, for one of Hartford’s few theatre ensembles dedicated to social justice, this isn’t as drastic of a change in content as it will be in format. Instead of staging productions in their 75-seat theater, the company is looking into radio plays and outdoor performances. Simmons and company are asking themselves and their audience, “how do we create the world we want to live in?” through a BIPOC lens. “In theater, which is very white (at least in the USA), it’s time to have a conversation,” Simmons said. “Many of the things we took for granted are going to start crumbling, and will be replaced by a new experiment that will be more inclusive and nimble.”