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HartBeat Ensemble Puts Stories of Hartford Neighborhood on Stage

Hartford's HartBeat Ensemble premieres a new work this weekend that draws on the stories of people from the city’s Asylum Hill neighborhood. It accompanies an effort by community leaders to inspire change in the neighborhood by working closely with the people who live there. 

Last July, Debra Walsh was at a block party on South Marshall Street. Walsh is a member of HartBeat, and was gathering interviews from residents about their experiences living on that block. 

A woman with two young children approached Walsh and they began talking. 

“What really moved me was her honesty,” Walsh said. “Because she said, well I have three children, and my son who’s 15, he lives with my mother in Enfield. And then she just stared at us, and she went, ‘Because,’ and she gestured to the street.”

South Marshall Street has faced many challenges -- crime, poverty, blight, and social marginalization. And the ensemble’s new play  “Meet Us Where We Are” is based on about 30 interviews from the community, and presents those struggles -- and triumphs -- in a dramatized performance. 

Hannah Simms, the play’s director, said the play tries to reflect the diverse communities that live on the block -- which is just about a quarter-mile long. 

“On South Marshall there’s a shelter,” Simms said. “There’s a series of apartment buildings. There’s a row of Habitat For Humanity houses and there is a large building which is mostly Karen refugees, people who came from Burma to the United States. So you have this incredibly diverse street.”

Watch scenes from the play below. 

The second half of the play will be a live, unscripted discussion between audience members and  neighborhood leaders. 

“Our goal is to get people coming out feeling upset, and inspired at the same time. Feeling both some anger, and some hope about creating change in our community,” Simms said. 

Credit Ryan Caron King / WNPR
Briana Maia (left) in rehearsal.
Credit Ryan Caron King / WNPR
Actors Debra Walsh (from left to right) Aurelia Clunie, Cin Martinez, and Briana Maia during a rehearsal for "Meet Us Where We Are.

Briana Maia, an actor in the play, said because the people who the play is about will be in the audience, the impact of the performance will be heightened. 

“It’s in a very intimate space. which I love,” Maia said. “It’s just us, you know, nameless characters… telling a very real story that’s going to be real to the people who are coming.” 

Director Hannah Simms at a HartBeat Ensemble rehearsal.

The play was created in partnership with the Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association and the Immanuel Congregational Church and will run for three performances at the Carriage House Theater from February 5 to 7. 


Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.
Ryan Caron King joined Connecticut Public in 2015 as a reporter and video journalist. He was also one of eight reporters on the New England News Collaborative’s launch team, covering regional issues such as immigration, the environment, transportation, and the opioid epidemic.

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