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Portraits Of Real Life

Hartford Teens Voice Their Anger, Fear And Frustration On Stage In "Aired Words"

August 6, 2005
By STEPHANIE REITZ, Courant Staff Writer

In her tight ponytail and simple white tank top, Roxanna Negron doesn't need props or costumes to transform herself from a Hartford teenager to a theater performer.

Negron, 17, and the other teens in her summer program just draw on their anger, fear and frustration over living in a city where too many lives have been ended by quick tempers and loaded guns.

Five weeks of their intensive work will culminate Monday night in "Aired Words," a multimedia performance at Hartford Stage in which the 11 city teens will use theatrical methods to condemn the gun violence that has shaken their neighborhoods.

"People should be able to walk down their own street. They have a right to live - we all do," Negron said Thursday, speaking passionately to an imaginary audience as she rehearsed her monologue with the other teens.

The 11 teenagers, none of whom knew each other before, met five weeks ago when they signed up for a writing and performance program coordinated by Hartford Stage and the Hartford Public Library.

They decided to speak out against gun violence after researching this year's Hartford shooting deaths, videotaping the sites where the homicides had taken place and talking with family and friends of those who have died.

One homicide resonated in particular: the shooting of Dante Davis, 21, who was killed on June 21 by an unknown gunman near her Martin Street home after going out to a convenience store to buy milk for her baby.

Much of the presentation focuses on that case, which remains unsolved. Although Davis is never mentioned by name, elements of her story are woven through the performance.

"A person should be able to walk down the street to buy some milk. I am outraged that she is not standing here," said Rachel Meddar, 15, a Southwest neighborhood resident who acts both as the narrator and a victim of violence in the performance.

The teens' work draws on a centuries-old tradition of using the stage for social commentary. From the ancient Greeks and Romans, to today's disaffected college students, many have found the theater to be a powerful tool to decry injustice and influence public opinion.

For the Hartford students, speaking out on stage also helped them realize they are not alone in their fears, frustrations and anger over the violence they see on their city's streets.

Their presentation adds other elements of urban reality, too: the sense that anyone could be victimized, the shock of seeing lives end so abruptly and the fear that speaking out could assign a person to the same fate as those they grieve.

"I don't want to get involved in this. What if he comes after me?" said South End resident Gabrielle Hanlan, 14, reading the lines that she and others wrote. "Don't try to make me feel bad. I already feel bad about all of this."

Several teens in the program said that learning about Davis' death, along with their memories of the shooting of Takira Gaston, stayed with them.

Takira was 7 when she was shot in the face in 2001 while at a July 4th picnic, hit by a bullet that a nearby drug dealer fired at his rival. She survived. Many of the teens in the "Aired Word" presentation were only a few years older than Takira when she was shot.

Eddie Duran, education director at Hartford Stage, said the teens have poured their emotions into the "Aired Words" presentation.

"They've been really affected by the stories of violence, especially the story of [Davis]," he said.

"The amount of work they've done on this is really impressive."

"Aired Words" will be presented at 7 p.m. Monday at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St. Admission is free.


Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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