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Lunafest Film Festival Comes to Goodwin College


EAST HARTFORD — Lunafest, a short film festival that supports women, will be at Goodwin College on March 16.

The traveling festival features films by women with women leads and range from animation to fictional drama that cover issues such as women’s health, body image, relationships, cultural diversity and breaking barriers.

The event will begin at 2 p.m. at Goodwin at One Riverside Dr. in East Hartford.

Hailed as one of the most beautifully supported short film festival, the event is a way to empower women, organizers said.

The festival is hosted by Soroptimist International Central Connecticut Clubs and will benefit the organization’s Live Your Dream Awards.

Tickets are $15 and are available at lunafest.org.

Featured films are as follows:

  • “Today, Tomorrow and Yesterday,” an animated story of a woman finding her old diaries, by Jackie Files.
  • “Drummer Girl,” the story of a woman with a passion for music, by Sophie Hexter.
  • “Flip the Record,” a coming-of-age story about a Filipino-American girl, by Marie Jamora.
  • “War Paint,” the story of a woman facing racism and sexism, by Katrelle N. Kindred.
  • “Ur Dead to Me,” a story about a delivery woman learning about life, by Yonoko Li.
  • “The Final Show,” a story of a woman contemplating death, by Dana Nachman.
  • “Are We Good Parents?” a story about a girl who comes out to her family, by Bola Ogun.
  • “My Immigrant Story,” a documentary about director Yuriko Gamo Romer’s family.

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St. James Episcopal to Host the Vienna Boys’ Choir


WEST HARTFORD – The world-famous Vienna Boys’s Choir will give only one performance in Connecticut during its spring concert tour in the United States.

The Austrian ensemble will perform on April 2 at 7 p.m. at St. James’s Episcopal Church at 1018 Farmington Ave in West Hartford.

Artistic Director of Concerts at St. James Vaugh Mauren said the church is “extremely fortunate that the Vienna Boys Choir has included West Hartford in their 2019 tour.”

That’s because the choir gives about 300 concerts per year in locations across the world and is in high demand, he said.

“This concert is a rare opportunity for music lovers in the Greater Hartford region to have one of the finest boys choirs in the world,” Mauren said.

The Vienna Boy’s Choir, which traces its history to 1498, is known for their lively singing style and beautiful tone. Before 1918, the choir sang exclusively for the imperial court, at mass, concerts, private functions and on state occasions.

Mauren said that the choir will be heard in the natural acoustic of the church sanctuary that is “much more suited” to the boys’s voices than a larger venue.

The program will included the famous “O Fortuna” from Orff’s Carmina Burana, Renaissance and Baroque choral classics and selections from Broadway musicals. It will also end with favorite Strauss polkas and waltzes, including “The Beautiful Blue Danube.”

Tickets for the Vienna Boys Choir’s concert are priced from $20 to $65 and can be purchased here.

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Hartford Public High School Celebrates Black History Month


HARTFORD — Hartford Public High School on Wednesday will continue its celebration of Black History Month with musical guest, Kymberli Joye.

Joye was a semi-finalist on the NBC show, The Voice.

The Windsor native will be joined by Andre Gray, an inventor and internet pioneer who created the Ringtone and the Ringback.

The event will be from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the school library and auditorium located at 55 Forrest St in Hartford.

At 8:00 a.m. in the school library, students will meet and discuss their future goals with Hartford professionals and community leaders.

At 9:00 a.m., students will be invited to the auditorium to hear Joye sing and to hear a keynote speech from Gray.

The presentation follows Monday’s events which featured Congresswoman Jahana Hayes and Connecticut State Troubadour Nekita Waller,

 

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Veterans to Host an Evening of Comedy to Benefit Veterans


BRIDGEPORT — Veterans will be helping veterans when three comedians perform on March 8.

Homes for the Brave, Treehouse Comedy Productions, and Funny4Funds will present a lively and memorable night out at the Third Annual “For Veterans By Veterans” Comedy Night, hosted at Vazzano’s Four Seasons at 337 Kenyon St. in Stratford.

The “For Veterans By Veterans” Comedy Night features a buffet dinner, door prizes, 50/50 raffle, and a hilarious lineup of professional comics, all of whom are U.S. Military Veterans.

Jay Are Adams (US Navy, served 2000-2016), Rich Carucci (US Army, served 1983-1986), and Jody Sloane (US Coast Guard, served 1985-1989) are scheduled to perform. Proceeds raised from the event will fund programs and services that assist homeless veterans to get back on their feet, organizers said.

Opening its doors in 2002, Homes for the Brave is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to providing safe housing, case management, vocational services, and life skills coaching to homeless individuals, primarily veterans.

Money raised from the Comedy Night will benefit HFTB’s offerings. To date, the organization has served over 1,250 individuals.

Tickets are $75 per person and tables of 10 can be purchased for $750. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. for dinner and the show starts at 8:30 p.m. To purchase your tickets or for more information visit www.homesforthebrave.org/comedynight or call (203) 338-0669.

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Hartford Stage Hires its First Female Director: Melia Bensussen


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Hartford Stage has hired a new artistic director: Melia Bensussen.

Bensussen, an award winning director based in Boston, will be Hartford Stage’s sixth director effective June. She will be the first woman to serve in that role.

Hartford Stage President David R. Jimenez announced the news on Wednesday.

“Melia is accomplished, talented and well-recognized in the theatre world,” said Jimenez in a statement. “I am thrilled that she will be joining Hartford Stage, and I have full confidence she will continue to build on the theatre’s history of artistic excellence and acclaim.”

Bensussen has directed several productions since 1984 at theaters, including New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, Baltimore Center Stage and New York Shakespeare Festival.

She won several awards such as the Obie Award in 1999 for the production of “The Turn of the Screw.”

The Massachusetts based director was raised in Mexico City. She will succeed Darko Tresnjak, who was director for eight years. Her appointment comes after a 10-month search.

“It’s an exciting time at Hartford Stage, building on a record of success. It can evolve even further in its international profile, its community engagement and its educational programming,” Bensussen said.” At a time when the country most needs healthy discourse across ideologies and beliefs, the theatre can provide a haven and a forum for a multiplicity of views, beliefs, languages and cultures. I’m excited to work with this region’s diverse population to continue the artistic excellence that has won Hartford Stage its rightful renown, as well as expanding the range of stories on its stage and the faces in its audience.”

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Ebony Horsewomen Secures Grant for Cowboy Museum


HARTFORD — Ebony Horsewoman Inc. of Hartford is among a dozen cultural organizations to receive grants from the state.

The Department of Economic and Community Development’s Good to Great initiative funds projects that link art, history and tourism in ways that enable cultural and historical sites to enhance visitors’ experience. The funding is targeted for small to medium-size cultural organizations.

The list of $3 million in grants includes $50,000 to Ebony Horsewomen to build a barn and create a mini Black Cowboy Museum.

The funding can be used for a variety of needs, including construction, exhibit design and installation, planning and marketing. Recipients must provide a 25 percent cash match.

Other recipients include the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol with $150,000 to install a new energy efficient, air handling system with humidity control to protect the museum’s collection and improve visitors’ experience. The Connecticut Trolley Museum in East Windsor also received $50,000 to complete its restoration.

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Hartford’s Winterfest is Open Now Through Jan. 3


HARTFORD — Hartford Winterfest has opened and will run until Jan. 3.

Greater Hartford residents can now participate in carousel at the Bushnell Park and free ice skating. Thanks to a $30, 000 grant from United Bank.

The grant from United Bank is to ensure that the event is free and open to the public from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Skate rentals are free. And skating lessons are free.

The Bushnell Carousel is open on the weekends and rides are $1.

There is also a Santa Workshop on Saturdays and Sundays from now until Dec. 23.

For more information about Winterfest, click here.

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Act Up Theater to Present Annual Performance: Ebony Annie


HARTFORD — Act Up, a community-based theater group, will present its third annual performance with the play, Ebony Annie.

The three-day event will be at the Annie Fisher Montessori Magnet School on Dec. 6, 7 and 8 at 7 p.m. There will also be a matinee performance on Dec. 8 at 3 p.m.

The Broadway-style performance will approach the classic play Annie from a unique and relevant angle, organizers said. The mother-daughter duo Faithlyn and Tyler directed the multicultural cast of more than 50 urban youth and community members.

This version, presenters said, explodes with high energy and comedy that will have the audience laughing and singing.

Act Up Theater strives to make positive impact in Hartford by offering children and adults the opportunity to express themselves. Act Up also recognizes social justice issues pulled from today’s culture and addresses them through the power of the arts.

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Ready for Their Closeup: What Crazy Rich Asians Means to the People Who Made It


By Ann Branigin

In an interview with The Root, Chu divulged that he and the movie’s cast and crew “cried almost every day on set.” The history-making film is only one of a handful of Hollywood films to boast an all-Asian cast, and is the first major romantic comedy to ever do so. As focused as everyone was on the task at hand—making a great movie—it was hard to escape the significance of what they were doing.

“When we [watched] a scene, we’d get this feeling of, ‘Why haven’t I ever seen this before?’ Why isn’t it so obvious? And also never been done? Like a romantic comedy lead of Asian, American Asian, British Asian all these people, it feels so natural,” Chu said. Watching it all manifest onscreen, “it becomes a very emotional, cathartic.”

For much of the past year, Chu, who previously directed Now You See Me 2 andStep Up: All In, has been by himself, editing the film. He thought he was done plowing through those feelings of catharsis—as he describes it, “a weighted cry.” But a flurry of screenings in the lead-up to Crazy Rich Asians’ nationwide release has the Palo Alto native and son of Chinese restaurant owners reliving the experience.

“When you’re showing it again, and you see people—you forget other people have not been on that journey with you,” he said. “And you see that brings it all back up again. It’s been a magical week, actually.”

To say anticipation runs high for Crazy Rich Asians is an understatement. The movie boasts talent from across the Asian diaspora (Chu, who held open casting calls for the film, told the New York Times he wanted to cast theAvengers of Asian actors), and with a 95 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, early audiences clearly like what they’ve seen from the movie.

The love story, based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 bestselling novel of the same name, centers on Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and Nick Young (Henry Golding), both professors at New York University. Rachel, however, is unaware of her low-key and unassuming partner’s wealthy background, until she joins him on a visit to Singapore to attend his best friend’s wedding. There, she’s confronted by opulence—and a less-than-welcoming potential mother-in-law (played by the iconic Michelle Yeoh).

For Golding, a new-comer who previously hosted BBC News’ Travel Show, the leading man role places on the precipice of Hollywood stardom. Golding is undoubtedly Hollywood heart-throb material; the abs on abs, the chiseled jaw, the baritone that is equal parts soothing, equal parts “where did my pannies go?” The magnitude of his history-making both was just starting to sink in for Golding last weekend, as he was waiting for his family and best friend to join him for the movie’s premiere.

“The trappings which come with Hollywood sort of fame is pretty strange. It’s something I haven’t experienced before so I don’t know how it’s all going to be,” Golding told The Root. “Life has definitely changed, I know that for sure.”

In the lead-up to the film’s release, Chu and the Crazy Rich Asians cast have embraced the film’s responsibility—and the high stakes. Chu recently told theHollywood Reporter, “We can sugarcoat it all we want, but the moment you bring up an Asian-led movie, there’s one example to point to, and that’ll be us. To be on the biggest stage with the biggest stakes, that’s what we asked for.”

Crazy Rich Asians faces a crazy amount of pressure—the kind of which only seems to fall on underrepresented stories and the people who tell them. One of the mostly flatly unfair expectations hoisted on Crazy Rich Asians is that it represent more of the Asian diaspora—a demographic so broad and diverse that many Asian Americans report having difficulty identifying with the term. Others have criticized the film for not showing more of Singapore’s diversity (the country boasts a large Malay and Indian population that are largely unseen in the film). Still others have asked if the movie (and its cast members) are “Asian enough.” Frankly, it’s the sort of dialogue that arises every time a mainstream movie centers people of color; films that are so few and far between they are left to shoulder undue burdens of representation (Asian American writers have parsed their feelings around the film—and its burden of representation—with great nuance and care).

While Chu is certainly aware of the movie’s historic importance, he makes clear that his film is not supposed to be emblematic of the Asian American experience. In fact, talking about the film, from cleaning up the script to letting the actors “off the leash,” Chu frequently refers to the film’s specificity.

“This is only one movie. This is only one perspective, this is only one set of characters,” Chu said, adding “We knew the universality would come from the specificity.”

So Chu dives with gusto into the world of Singaporean elites—the combination of futuristic superstructures alongside street markets filled with families of different ethnicities coming together for a meal.

“It’s the warmth and the family traditions, the idea that ‘family first,’ and sacrifice for your family was the center of this,” Chu observed. It becomes part of the central tension of the whole film—how Nick and Rachel navigate disparate values and influences as they sort out who they are in and outside of their relationship.

For Golding, the movie is special for how it explores these themes—the sort you find in many other mainstream romantic comedies.

“It represents so many people, not just Asians,” Golding said. “It represents those who struggle bringing their partner home, or vice versa. Struggle with love. Struggle with overbearing parents or mothers-in-laws or crazy uncles and cousins.”

In rom-coms, likeability, relatability and charisma are the currency that lead actors bank on; that Asians—frequently viewed in American media as perpetual foreigners—could command roles that require mostly non-Asian audiences to relate to and identify with them, is no small thing. In fact, many are also curious whether Crazy Rich Asians could revive the romantic comedy genre—all but abandoned by major studios—as a whole (you know, no pressure). It’s true Crazy Rich Asians is no Black Panther: it’s decidedly less political than the Marvel film in terms of its content and its themes (it’s also a strange comparison—between an escapist rom-com and a superhero from an African utopia— that only exists because they’re two POC-driven films). But given the context of Hollywood’s incessant whitewashing of Asian characters and storylines, Crazy Rich Asians’ unabashed embrace of and commitment to an Asian perspective feels inherently meaningful.

“We have so many characters in this movie that can have their own spin-off because they’ve been given the access to be able to express themselves fully in a three dimensional way, not just to the sidelines character, the tech assistant or the karate expert,” said Golding. “It’s proven that that we can do the job. We just need the chance.”

Both Chu and Golding expressed the hope that the film, rather than capturethe Asian American experience, would be part of a larger movement of diverse and underrepresented stories and characters stepping into the limelight.

“It is a necessity for cinema to survive. A medium that I love so much needs new stories and new perspectives to survive to the next generation. And it’s a call to action, to say we must keep doing this,” said Chu.

For him, making the film created a space for Asians and Asian Americans to be themselves and own their specific stories—“the idea that we can be who we are. And in a fun way, not be heavy-handed about it,” he said.

In this way, Crazy Rich Asians, like other POC-led casts before it, acts as a sort of safe space for the cast and crew who made the film, as well as for the audiences who come to soak in its images. For Chu, the experience of making the film was about exploring something that always felt too “cringey” and intimate—cultural identity—but about being free. Free to be specific. Free to tell one great story. Free to not hide.

“This movie has changed me more than anything, any movie I’ve done for sure,” said Chu. “Feeling that confidence, to love my unique background and love America and love the people that are here that will see this and understand our journey together. To me it’s a story that is sort of trying to be crushed right now, but is ultimately what America is all about. And I think that is an important thing to have in this world.”

This article was first published by The Root.

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Trio to Perform at Cedar Hill Cemetery Concert


HARTFORD — The Cedar Hill Cemetery Foundation on July 27 will present a free concert showcasing the popular Connecticut trio Last Fair Deal.

The concert will be held on the lawn at 453 Fairfield Ave. in Hartford.

Known for their stellar vocals and unique acoustic synergy,  Last Fair Deal guitarist Paul Howard, fiddler Tom Hagymasi and banjo player Phil Zimmerman will perform an eclectic selection of old time string band, blue grass, swing and popular music.

Last Fair Deal is influenced by blue grass, jazz, acoustic rock and contemporary singer-songwriters. Their repertoire include original music as well as interpretations of classic songs from John Hartford, Gillian Welch, Nat King Cole, the Beatles and Bob Dylan.

For more information contact Beverly Lucas at blucas@cedarhillcemetery.or or 860-956-3311. Or visit www.cedarhillfoundation.org

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