Building Characters and Confidence With Breakdancing Shakespeare

I read Romeo and Juliet in middle school, and I vaguely recalled the important names from the play- the Montagues and Capulets, Mercutio and Tybalt, and of course, the eponymous leads. I didn’t remember that there was a nurse in the play, much less any of her lines.

That is, until Asaundra Hill stole the show last year as the Nurse in Hartford Stage’s Breakdancing Shakespeare production of Romeo and Juliet. Asaundra stood out as especially energetic and hilarious among a talented cast which made the play much more entertaining than when I skimmed through it in seventh grade.

Photo Credit: Hartford Stage.

Last year, I was invited by Hartford Stage to learn more about Breakdancing Shakespeare. It was my first time hearing about the program, and I wrote about how impressed I was by the level of dedication and talent on display from everyone involved. When I returned this year, I was fortunate enough to speak with Asaundra and Tamara Graham, another performer returning to the program this year. As we talked, the Breakdancing Shakespeare program took on a new meaning. It’s more than infusing The Bard’s timeless scripts with modern dance. Breakdancing Shakespeare’s great accomplishment is building the confidence, skills and networks of young people who don’t have other venues.

Asaundra has been involved in theater for most of her life, starting with a Cultural Arts program she entered as a child in Bloomfield. She has performed in productions for her church and Bloomfield High School, but Breakdancing Shakespeare was her first experience with a professional theater production.

“I would like to pursue theater as an adult,” she told me. “It’s really nice to get exposed to professionalism, being professional and doing a real production…This is a real show, under the lights, packing the house, professional choreography, all sorts of stuff like that. Being in this program has really opened my eyes to how things work in theater. And being in this program opens up alot of different connections. Your network builds.” One of those connections was an employee at the Hartford Foundation. When she saw Asaundra’s application for a scholarship to attend Howard University in the fall, she recognized Asaundra from her performance in Romeo and Juliet last summer. “The lady said, ‘When I saw your application, I just had to give [the scholarship] to you!'” Asaundra explained, laughing. She will be majoring in political science while minoring in theater arts at Howard, although she may change those plans into a double major over the summer.

Tamara Graham is another performer returning for her second year in the program. Like Asaundra, she got her start in Cultural Arts and also attends Bloomfield High School, where she will be a senior this fall. Tamara is already looking beyond her final year of high school and planning a career which incorporates the lessons and benefits she’s received from Breakdancing Shakespeare. Tamara is interested in studying psychology and dance in college. She wants to open both her own dance studio and therapy office, and combine the two to offer therapeutic services for her clients through dance. Tamara developed the idea from her own experiences. Dance has helped her to deal with difficult situations in her own life.

“Even when I come here [to Breakdancing Shakespeare], it’s an outlet for me, it really is, because outside of this I get stressed out by alot of things. When I come here there’s alot of positive energy and you’re only focused on one goal, and being focused on one main goal means alot to be able to be with people who share the same love that I do.”

Photo Credit: Hartford Stage.

Tamara also wants her studio to offer the kinds of opportunities that she didn’t have access to. “I’ve always wanted to be a part of a dance studio and sadly I was never part of a dance studio, so even being here with people who are part of different dance studios has motivated me to want to be that dance studio for somebody else later on. I know how it feels to see everybody and meet people and you just think they’re big on campus because you think they have a serious, official background and I don’t really have an official background, but I always keep in mind what my mom says: as soon as the music comes on, I move…and I use that as motivation when I see these people that I could be just as good as they can be.”

Asaundra echoed those sentiments. “It was nice to see people who don’t know me, who couldn’t know me from Sam over there, Joe over there, to just, to have impacted them, to touch them and for them to give me so many compliments and all of that and saying, ‘You stole the show!’, it was really eye opening to me. It just let me know you really could do it. Even if you don’t have all this formal training, you still can do it, and you got it, so do it.”

For these incredible young women, the Breakdancing Shakespeare program has been a key experience in their growth as performers. You can help Breakdancing Shakespeare continue to train young people in the arts by attending a benefit performance of this year’s production, As You Like It, on Saturday, August 5th at 7:00 PM. All proceeds will go directly into funding Breakdancing Shakespeare in 2018. General Admission performances will be offered beginning on Thursday, August 3rd and will run through Saturday afternoon. This program has made a difference for so many young people, so go out and show your support.

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