Community Partnership with The Hartford Strives to Enrich the Lives of Hartford Students
By Theresa MacNaughton, Community Engagement Associate
“I see future patrons of the arts in students who might not otherwise be interested in theatre,” said one teacher.
The Hartford is once again partnering with Hartford Stage to provide students in the local community with access to professional theatre productions, such as the upcoming Kiss Me, Kate, and education programs that challenge and inspire. This relationship strengthens the commitment of both organizations to enhance the lives of Hartford students and the surrounding communities through arts enrichment.
The Hartford’s history of support for Hartford Stage through production sponsorships and other funding dates back nearly 50 years. In recent years, The Hartford has been a Presenting Sponsor for Antony and Cleopatra, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, and Somewhere by Matthew Lopez. Presenting Sponsors help underwrite the costs associated with productions presented at Hartford Stage. Each of these productions included Student Performance Series student matinees attended by thousands of students. The funding from The Hartford also helps support Hartford Stage’s InterACT program, in which students from selected underserved schools see three MainStage productions each season, free of charge, and participate in pre- and post-show in-school workshops led by Hartford Stage teaching artists.
“We’re proud to partner with Hartford Stage to bring such valuable educational and arts enrichment opportunities to Hartford area students,” said Diane Cantello, Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility at The Hartford. “We have had a wonderful relationship with Hartford Stage for more than half a century, helping enable the impactful educational experiences it provides for young people in our community.”
Since 2012, The Hartford’s Presenting Sponsorship has enabled approximately 300 students from Hartford Public High School, located in The Hartford’s Asylum Hill neighborhood, to see productions of The Tempest, Twelfth Night, and Somewhere through an extension of the InterACT program. This opportunity is open to all students in the school’s three learning academies, in addition to two classes from Hartford Public High School’s Law and Government Academy, who participate in InterACT. Teaching artists from Hartford Stage lead a school-wide assembly at the school on the day of the performance, getting students on their feet and excited about what they are about to see. Through The Hartford’s continued generous support of this innovative program, the Hartford Public High School student body will be invited to a special student matinee performance of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate this spring.
“One of the goals of our education department is to make sure that young people in our community have access to our theatre,” said Jennifer Roberts, Director of Education at Hartford Stage. “Many of our InterACT students are seeing a play for the first time. The Hartford’s gift allows us to extend an invitation to not just two classes in that school, but to the entire school, while removing any cost to the student or the school.”
Last year, more than 8,000 students attended a performance at Hartford Stage; nearly 500 students participated in InterACT. Each year, InterACT exposes hundreds of underserved high school students from Hartford and the surrounding area to professional theatre.
“You know a student has been deeply affected when they talk about experiences from years before. They still talk about Somewhere and how much they enjoyed it,” said Melanie Tokarz, a teacher from the Nursing Academy at Hartford Public High School. “Our students look forward each year to the chance to attend performances at the Hartford Stage. Some students see the same production again with their families. They bring their experiences and impressions from their visits into classroom discussions on everything from how an actor delivers a line of dialogue to the finances of a stage production. I see future patrons of the arts in students who might not otherwise be interested in theatre.”
In addition to presenting sponsorships, The Hartford facilitates and supports in-theatre reception and performance events benefitting some of its community partner organizations, such as the Hartford Youth Scholars Foundation.
Founded in 2005, the Hartford Youth Scholars Foundation (HYSF) creates opportunities for Hartford students to attend four-year colleges through the development and implementation of academic programs. HYSF recruits highly-motivated middle school students, preparing them for high school and assisting them in gaining acceptance and financial assistance at top independent schools in the region with a proven record of college placement. HYSF continues to support these scholars throughout their high school and college years – with the hope that they will eventually return to Hartford and, in turn, support and participate in the development of a vibrant, productive community.
With the support of The Hartford, HYSF scholar students were able to enjoy an evening at Hartford Stage to see Somewhere last April. The event celebrated HYSF scholars for their hard work and provided them with an opportunity to learn and expand their social and networking skills, see a professional theatre production, and speak with artists directly connected with the production. Through the financial support of The Hartford, HYSF will return to Hartford Stage in June to see Kiss Me, Kate.
“The Hartford Youth Scholars Foundation is grateful to The Hartford and Hartford Stage for helping to build brighter futures for Hartford students on the foundation of education,” said Roxanna Booth Miller, Co-Director and Chief Development Officer for The Hartford Youth Scholars Foundation. “United in the belief that education changes everything, their support enables local young scholars to gain access to a four-year college degree via preparation at an independent school – all made possible by a rigorous college readiness program at Steppingstone Academy Hartford. The integration of the arts into the students’ educational curriculum provides not only an important pathway to learning but also fosters an appreciation of Hartford’s cultural treasures.”
Developing strong community relationships with organizations such as The Hartford Youth Scholars Foundation remains at the core of the missions of both Hartford Stage and The Hartford. By collaboratively creating and strengthening ties with Hartford’s schools, non-profit foundations, and youth-oriented organizations, Hartford Stage and The Hartford, together, move closer to their goal of providing equal access to the arts for all.