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Arts & Culture

Connecticut Theaters React to Floyd Killing, Nationwide Protests

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, theater companies in Connecticut are promising to do more to deal with racial injustice in their communities and within their own workplaces.

Godfrey Simmons, artistic director of Hartford’s Hartbeat Ensemble, is one of the few African American artistic directors in the state. The Hartbeat Ensemble is dedicated to presenting works that deal with issues of social justice and change.

In an open letter on the front page of its website, “A Letter From a Black Artistic Director,” Simmons made it clear that Hartbeat will not sit idly by during this time of civil unrest.

“I think the theater must be a part of this,” said Simmons, “because theater is like church. A place where people can come together to both hear their stories be told and actually tell their stories. Now sometimes it’s refracted through different lenses, but we believe that’s the power theater has.”

To that end, Simmons planned to facilitate a virtual safe space Thursday evening for artists, students and activists of color in Greater Hartford. In his open letter, Simmons said the virtual meeting would be an “infinity space for strategizing, decompressing and healing in these traumatic times.”

“It will be a chance for the participants to just take a deep breath,” said Simmons. “A moment to just be able to stop, and not to kind of like have the armor on while they’re out, either in the streets or in their workplace. And make sure that it is a dedicated space where people can just unload.”

Long Wharf Theater in New Haven has come out in support of people around the world protesting the killing of George Floyd and other unarmed black people at the hands of police officers.

Jacob Padrón is the artistic director of Long Wharf Theatre. Like Godfrey Simmons, Padrón, along with managing director Kit Ingui, penned an open letter on the theater’s website. While they promised to call out and address issues of racial injustice, the letter also pointed out Long Wharf’s own complicity in “upholding oppressive systems.”

“Theater and the stories that we tell can galvanize us,” said Padrón. “To propel people to actually want to make the world better. And I think that we haven’t always delivered on that promise, nor have we always communicated that that’s our intention to our audience.”

Padrón is suggesting a host of measures to correct this, including staff participation in an Undoing Racism and Community Participation workshop, sharing with the entire Long Wharf community ways they can get involved in the fight for racial justice, and the promise to “build a body of work for the new American theater repertoire that vigorously includes the voices of Black artists and artists of color.”

Earlier this week, Hartford Stage also posted an open letter on its website. Artistic director Melia Bensussen and managing director Cynthia Rider said they pledge to “engage in further education and action to dismantle the systems of oppression that infect Hartford Stage, our industry and our beloved city of Hartford.”

Goodspeed Musicals also offered its support of peaceful protesters and promised to take a more active role in promoting the voices of black artists and administrators.

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.

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