A Modern Day Hempsted House

Imanni Hunter, right, 16, hugs Ariana Sampeur, 12, both of New London, while rehearsing a scene from the Writers Block, Ink, production of 'The Secret Wells Behind These Walls' at the Writers Block Ink Performing Arts Center in New London on Thursday, August 4, 2011.
Imanni Hunter, right, 16, hugs Ariana Sampeur, 12, both of New London, while rehearsing a scene from the Writers Block, Ink, production of "The Secret Wells Behind These Walls" at the Writers Block Ink Performing Arts Center in New London on Thursday, August 4, 2011.

‘In This House," by the Judy Dworin Performance Project, inspired by the story of slavery, abolition, and race relations surrounding New London's landmark Joshua Hempsted House over three generations, has inspired another original play - "The Secret Wells Behind These Walls" - conceived by students in the Writers Block, Ink summer program.

The production, which runs Aug. 18-21 at The Writers Block Performing Arts Center, takes the fascinating story of the house and its inhabitants into the present day, telling the tale of a family that currently lives in the Hempsted neighborhood.

"The Secret Wells…." is perfectly in sync with the mission of the nonprofit organization that was founded in 2003 and draws students from New London and surrounding towns "…to encourage youth to use writing and performance as tools to address personal and social challenges on the community stage."

Writers Block courses encompass all the performing arts including writing, acting, singing, and dance and are structured to help build students self-confidence, leadership and teamwork.

"Writers Block doesn't mind addressing issues that are hard to address because they're issues kids want to talk about and express about society," says Monica Lasenberry, the show's director. "What makes Writers Block unique is (the students) don't mind pushing the envelope and talking about what's not being talked about."

Although this is Lasenberry's directorial debut with Writers Block, the New London resident and 2006 graduate of New London High School - currently a student at Southern Connecticut State University - was one of the program's founding students and has acted, danced in, and assistant directed many of its performances.

Lasenberry is passionate about "giving kids the same opportunities I was given." She is also assistant director of Colors of Life that offers young people in the community the opportunity to express themselves through dance.

One Play Begets Another

The concept of "The Secret Wells" was born after Writers Block students were invited to a community meeting for The Judy Dworin Project, Lasenberry explains, and saw a DVD of "In This House," which premiered in Hartford in April and comes to The Garde Arts Center on Oct. 13.

The question, "What's going on in your home?" is posed at the end of "In This House," and was the impetus for the students to write their own piece and explore what's going on in their own lives, says Lasenberry, "and raise awareness about our past and how it effects our present day, and can build our future."

Lasenberry created an outline for the production, along with Writers Block board member and playwright Lisa Giordano and Abdul Johnson, who assists Liz Almanzar in choreographing the play. A student writing council took it from there, developing the plot and characters, and adding other pieces they felt would benefit the production.

The play centers on The Wells, a fictional family, who have teenage children, and currently live in the Hempsted neighborhood. One part of the family is related to Joshua Hempsted and another part of the family is related to Adam Jackson, the New London-born black man, whom Hempsted "owned."

"We took a little twist and brought (the story) to a different realm," Lasenberry points out. "The Wells are dealing with the hardships of the present economy that's putting a strain on their family and (at the same time) are learning about their family history.

"It's a journey through their lineage and heritage," she continues, "knowing about your past so you can live in the present and form an identity for yourself and move forward."

The production's costumes, set, and lighting is all created by the students and the storyline will be enhanced with hip hop and contemporary dance, rap, poetry and singing.

"The students are very enthusiastic and excited and ready to bring what's on paper to light," Lasenberry says.

She urges people to come to the show from all over Connecticut, not just New London, because "the production isn't just about what's going on in our community, but about issues everyone can relate to."

For more information about Writers Block, Ink programs, tuition, and scholarship opportunities, visit www.writersblockink.org.

Writers Block, Ink Presents "The Secret Wells Behind These Walls"

When: Aug. 18-20 at 7 p.m., and Aug. 20-21 at 2 p.m.

Where: Writers Block, Ink Performing Arts Center, 446 Colman St., New London.

How: Tickets are $12, $10 for students and seniors; $8 for groups of 5 or more attending the same performance.

Tickets are available by calling (860) 442-5625.

Kirshon Augmon, right, 15, of New London, plays the role of a teacher talking to students while rehearsing a scene from the Writers Block, Ink, production of 'The Secret Wells Behind These Walls' at the Writers Block Ink Performing Arts Center in New London on Aug. 4.
Kirshon Augmon, right, 15, of New London, plays the role of a teacher talking to students while rehearsing a scene from the Writers Block, Ink, production of "The Secret Wells Behind These Walls" at the Writers Block Ink Performing Arts Center in New London on Aug. 4.

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