Taken from: The New Haven Independent

Cell Phones Don’t Exist

LINK: http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/citys_first_teen_acting_ensemble_debuts/

by Allan Appel | May 9, 2013 3:19 pm

Allan Appel PhotoAllan Appel PhotoWarehouse Ensemble actors Madeline Wright, Ja’Quann Brantley, and Angelica Rodrigez.

Motha Earth checks out Wisdom Warrior and his girlfriend Patti in the new booth at Uncle Kang’s Diner. That stuff she’s dabbing on her zits? It was intended to be a magical potion to take Wisdom’s mind off other girls. Turns out it works even better as acne cream.

Welcome to the mythical yet teen-down-to-earth world of Hope High: Class of ‘84.

It’s the first production of the Warehouse Ensemble, a group of 13 to 19-year-old teens and adult actors, a cast of 23 who open on Friday night at Long Wharf’s Stage Two.

Their play was written, choreographed, and directed by Sharece M. Sellem and is being produced by the Bregamos Community Theater and its indefatigable leader Rafael Ramos.

Ramos also presides over much unwanted drama as Livable City Initiatives’s head of housing code enforcement.

In another first, Ramos is also acting in Sellem’s play.

Uncle Kang, aka Rafael Ramos, at his diner with two of his favorite customers, Jaqui, played by Bianca James (in blue) and Roxanne, played by Diamond Jackson.

He’s Uncle Kang, the owner of the greasy spoon that’s the center of life for the kids at crime and poor-condition plagued Cedar City High School.

They love Kang but they give him a hard time. In one scene during the dress rehearsal late Wednesday night, Kang turns to his young critics who have turned their nose up at his daily special and declares: “Hey, there is nothing wrong with the meat loaf. Where else can you get a meat loaf special on a Wednesday!”

Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Click here to read about Sellem’s work as a performance artist and mime and her previously produced plays in town, which she mounts when she’s not teaching as the visiting artist at the Davis Street Arts and Academics School in Westville.

The young actors, at least five of whom have never been in a play before, have been rehearsing at the pace of two two-hour sessions a week for the past six months.

At Wednesday’s rehearsal, she was both full of praise and tough love, the latter because her thespians had been acting, well, like teenagers, and making too much noise during rehearsal.

Note from Director: Your Cell Phones Don’t Exist

Stay in character from now on, she declared in remarks after the cast practiced their end-of-play bowing.

“You’re in 1984. Put your cell phones away. They don’t exist. Be fully in character from now on. You’re an actor. It’s a profession,” she said.

Sellem said her Warehouse Ensemble(WE) was needed because there was no active acting company for teens in the Greater New Haven area.

This inaugural season the training for the kids has been largely acting, with adults pitching in, including the sets having been painted by Independent contributing writer David Sepulveda.

Director Sellem on the right with Uncle Kang.

In the future, Sellem said, she hopes to expand the training so kids in the WE will also learn props, set design, and the behind the scenes of the theater world.

She said the play has been percolating with her since 2009 and she took in the dances that people were doing to accompany Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

“I’m an adult, but I feel like I’m a teen,” she said. Sellem said at the heart of the play is her interest in the complex relationships among kids—wannabees, the pseudo-revolutionaries, nerds, jocks, who’s in and who’s out.

It’s liberating to have that on the stage, she said. “This is a community project. We want to be the hot things for teens [in town].”

As the cast gathered their costumes and props and made final checks as to who’s in charge of what for the performances, Uncle Kang threw in another assessment: “I’m not an actor, but I’ve learned a lot in six months. We’re family now. Let’s have fun,” he said.


Taken from “I LOVE NEW HAVEN” Blog                                                                                       http://www.ilovenewhaven.org/2012/09/last-chance-at-bregamos-theater-chris.html

Monday, September 17, 2012

“Last Chance” at Bregamos Theater – Chris Randall

“This event was a stage reading of “Last Chance” which was presented by Inner Theater Creative Arts Workshop. “Last Chance” was written and performed by teens who have participated in the Connection Inc.’s Inner Theater Creative Arts Workshop. This story reveals one teen’s life on the other side of substance abuse. A dealer and a talented poet, Chance gives his insight into his tough balancing act.
The five teens in the performance are: Yuliana (15), Ariana (14, and she wants to be a midwife), Suzette (14), Elvin (16), Jessica F. (15), and Jessica W. (17).  These kids were amazing, and I’m really rooting for them!”

Taken from the New Haven Independent http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/last_chance_bregamos/

“Last Chance,” First Reading

by David Sepulveda |  Sep 18, 2012  8:11 am

“On September 15, The Inner Theater Project in conjunction with Bregamos Community Theater presented “Last Chance,” a stage reading of a work-in-progress, written by young thespians under the guidance of Director-Choreographer Sharece M. Sellem, who is also the Drama Instructor for the Dramatic Dreamers Drama Club at Davis St. Interdistrict Arts & Academics Magnet School in New Haven.

Bregamos, now in its 12th year of providing and promoting quality community theater, operates out of a “spot that nobody wanted,” according to its founder, Rafael Ramos. The theater, located in building 8 on the back side of Fair Haven’s Erector Square Complex at 315 Peck Street, continues its remarkable work as resource and facility for theater groups, community events, activities, and programs.

With scripts in-hand, actors incorporated movement—spontaneous and choreographed—while reading their lines, infusing them with all the theatrical passion and pathos one might see in a polished production. A narrator off-stage, weaved the scenes together by adding technical footnotes, that in an actual play, would set the scenes and direct the action of the players. After the readings, director Sellem elicited questions and received thoughtful comments from the audience that will help shape the script, develop characters and refine the message going forward. Some expressed appreciation at having such a great arts-based facility in right in their community.

“Last Chance” was made possible through a collaboration with The Connection Inc. Preventative Services, an agency that is focused on prevention of a spectrum of drug use in New Haven, while building and sustaining “healthy and caring communities.” To that end, the organization partners with youth, faith-based organizations, schools, businesses, human service organizations, and in this case, community theater. Gerardo Gorskin of The Connection Inc., applied for the original grant funding for the project.

Drug abuse is central to the script under development in the Inner Theater Creative Arts Workshop production, but the story is also about overcoming long odds as the show’s program summarized: “This story reveals one teen’s life on the other side of substance abuse. A dealer, and a talented poet, he gives us insight into his tough balancing act. “Chance” is a young man with some serious decisions to make. Things seem to crumble all around him until he discovers his hidden talent.”

Indeed, the script’s protagonists are not unlike some of the play’s actors who have discovered their talents for acting, performing and writing only recently, and who have found a creative and therapeutic outlet in which to channel their energies. After the reading, actors shared personal stories of how they connected with the acting workshop. Jessica Felaro (“Uncle,” “Morrison” and “Sully”), a multi-talented sophomore at Magnolia Academy in Cromwell, Connecticut, said she came by the program quite by chance after finding a flyer announcing the program. Other actors included were Elvin Rivera, Suzette Briones, Jessica Williams, Ariana Vecarro and Kimberly Rivera, who read her impassioned,original poem “Dig Deep” at the program’s outset. Some of the original program participants did not stay with the program to this point in the project’s development, but Sellem noted that their voices are still reflected in the script they helped develop.

 Theater Director, Rafael Ramos, who serves as New Haven’s Deputy Director of Code Enforcement for the Livable City Initiative when he is not volunteering his time doing theater-based community development, said they are hoping to get new funding for a second stage of the script’s development with the goal of ultimately bringing a full-fledged show to the stage. Ramos noted that with respect to the use of the facility, “No one is turned away.” While always short of funding and much-needed donations, Bregamos staff carry on, always mindful of theater’s namesake, “Bregamos”- from the Spanish verb “bregar” – to tweak, to work, to struggle.”

Taken from The New Haven Independent http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/weather_keeps_dead_indoors/

Weather Can’t Keep Down The Dead

by Allan Appel |  Oct 30, 2011  3:30 pm

“Skeletons rattled their PVC  bones and the dead had plenty of sugared bread and wine  piled high on their altar to enjoy themselves, as the Fair Haven Latino community’s Día de los Muertos carnival and parade came off without a hitch. But it came off indoors, not outdoors, due to Saturday’s surprise snowstorm.

Organized by the workers and immigrants rights grouop Unidad Latina en Accion, the Day of the Dead parade was scheduled to originate in Criscuolo Park Saturday late afternoon. Then the stormy forecast forced a rescheduling of the parade to Bregamos Theater Company in Erector Square for a briefer march. The altar of the dead, with edible sugar skulls, bread baked in bone shapes and a bottle of “Bohemian Highway” California cabernet sauvignon.

However as the slush accumulated citywide, the skull-and-rib-cage-bearing revelers, including playwright Aaron Jafferis, stayed indoors, some 50 strong, to party and promenade around the theater company’s space all decked out with an altar for the dead and a stage for the living to perform.

On Sunday organizers decided to do it again—outside, for real. They planned to meet at 5 p.m. at Bregamos for the outdoor promenade.

Joining the puppets is this huge fan of the Santa Fe, Colombia, soccer team created by Jennifer Mendoza.

Among the partiers Saturday were Natalia Houghton and her daughter Kaia along with a spiderman. Because the spiderman was having trouble with his hood, he preferred to remain anonymous.

Houghton had on a witch’s hat and colonial shoes with sparkly glitter on her buckles. Kaia was dressed in what appeared to be a quilt with South American indigenous designs.

Their combination costumes caught the spirit of the Day of the Dead, which seemed to embrace dressing up, letting it hang out, and defusing the terror of dying by, well, just staying in touch with dead.

The centerpiece of that was the altar of the dead. It was beautifully arrayed with pan de muerto,, sugar candy skulls the size of golf balls that kids had their eyes on, and even some bound and browned corn cobs reminiscent of Thanksgiving.”

Taken from The New Haven Independent


“Momma’s Boyz” Brings Street Life To Stage

by Allan Appel | Apr 29, 2010 11:40 am

Allan Appel Photo

“A drug dealer is coming to Fair Haven tonight looking for JaQuann Brantley—carrying a bullet with Brantley’s name on it.

Fortunately for JaQuann Brantley (at left in photo), that lethal action is taking place not on the streets but the stage.

Not that Brantley is unfamiliar with the rough life of the streets. The 20-year old from the Dwight neighborhood has had friends and acquaintances shot dead in turf and drug battles that were the tragic culmination of often petty slights or jealousies. He has avoided that fate. But he has also had an unsettled life including bouncing among several foster homes.

Now he may have found a home in the theater.

Fair Haven’s Bregamos Community Theater, to be precise. Brantley is one of the stars of Momma’s Boyz, a gripping story of three friends caught up in the drug life. It debuts Thursday night at the Erector Square theater; performances run through Sunday.

“He’s a gem for us,” said Rafael Ramos, the play’s producer and the founder of Bregamos.

Ramos met Brantley at a dinner where the young man was performing poetry.

Although he had had spoken word experience, mainly at city venues with open mikes, Brantley had never acted.

Ramos knew a natural when he saw one. “He’s very talented. He’s very eloquent when he expresses himself. It comes out like poetry,” said Ramos, who takes credit for discovering Brantley. “And the language and energy just pour out of him.”

The play, written by Candido Tirado, premiered at New York’s Hip Hop Theater Festival in 2002. It has won various awards. In the Fair Haven production, Brantley plays Shine, a young dealer who gets in a jealous competition with his mentor in drugs, Thug, over who can sell more bags. Shine can see beyond the drug life, but Thug can’t. The younger dealer becomes an obstacle for him and eventually shoots him dead.

“The events in the play are everyday life for me,” said Brantley. “My friends in the hood, they get popped for dumb stuff. The dirt never disappears. It catches up to you and turns into a mountain,” he said on Wednesday night in a break at tech rehearsal.


How was the play experience different from real life—or, rather, what is the novice actor getting out of the role?

“We’re stuck in time,” he said. And yet there is also a force at work, a kind of cosmic agency for good that gives people a second chance. In short, even in the most dire circumstances there is always a choice.

Brantley was referring to the plot structure of Momma’s Boyz: The opening scene has Thug kill Shine. That’s the culmination. Yet it didn’t have to be that way. There’s a decision to be made, and it could have gone the other way. Nothing is preordained.

The play makes that point by going backwards in time, so that the very last scene is the first that chronologically or causally occurred. And Shine is shown making a different decision. A better decision about his life. Had he chosen well, he might have lived. Of course, then there would not have been a play, or at least not the one we have seen.

The play enjoys poetic energy of the kind that Brantley possesses in abundance. He plays with a prickly vulnerability so nicely off the more experienced actors, Akintunde Sogunro as Thug and Gabriel Hernandez as Mimic (pictured right and center in top photo). Hernandez was last seen in 2007 as Bregamos in Aaron Jaferis’s Kingdom.

 In this scene in the video clip, we see the three pumped up pals engaged in a jealousy-fueled verbal battle over customers that will culminate in Shine’s shooting death.

It was clear to Rafael Ramos what Brantley was getting out of his debut: “He may not know it, but it’s therapeutic. He has this role to play and to analyze [choices]. He sees his real self and friends in the play, and he gets to make the decision, without the risk.”

In real life, as opposed to the stage, Brantley is looking forward to graduating high school, via the adult ed route, this June. He’s receiving guidance to transition to college through the Children’s Community Programs of Connecticut. Longer range plans are to go to community college locally and then to Brown University, he said

The play is also the debut of Bregamos’s refurbished theater space. There are serious new theater lights, a tech booth with sound and light control boards and a modular seating capacity of up to 199 people.

Ramos said the theater was configured for 99 people for Momma’s Boyz; he hopes it will be filled. Shows run from Thursday through Saturday, at Erector Square off the Blatchley Avenue entrance, with an 8 p.m. curtain. Sunday’s matinee is at 3 p.m. For tickets email here or call 866-631-880, extension1.

“Given the number of homicides of young people related to the drug trade,” Ramos said, he could not ask for a better play or more eloquent young players to launch the new house.



Did Brantley have any hesitations or frustrations in stepping into the make-believe world of the stage, even a tough make-believe world?”

Brantley replied that the audience is seeing in the play only half of what really goes on in the streets. “There’s an element you can’t portray even in a good play,” he said.

Momma’s Boys is directed by Raphael Massie, who recently appeared, as an actor, in Elm Shakespeare Company’s production of Yasmina Reza’s Art at the Kehler Liddell Gallery. The lighting design is by Halima Flynn; the stage crew is Avery Sanchez, and the tech crew is headed by Melvin Matos.”

Taken from The New Haven Independent 


“Kingdom” Hits Home

by Paul Bass | Feb 12, 2007 9:18 am

Rafael%201.jpgPaul Bass Photo

“A local playwright’s hip-hop musical about the Latin Kings, produced by this local hero’s community theater group, has been drawing crowds to Fair Haven—including an elected official wrestling with the issue of youth violence. Read on to find out what she plans to do next; and click on the play arrow above for a snippet from the show, in which Latin King recruit Andres (Gabriel Hernandez) vows revenge for a gang murder.

The play is called “Kingdom.” Aaron Jafferis, a Hillhouse and ECA grad, wrote it based on the stories of New Haven Latin King gang members. It had a celebrated run of performances in New York. Now it’s playing in New Haven, through this weekend, at Fair Haven Middle School. Bregamos Community Theater, which city housing inspector Rafael Ramos (pictured at top of this story) runs in his spare time, is staging it.

Click here to read Allan Appel’s interview with Ramos and Jafferis.

Saturday night’s sold-out crowd included Downtown Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark. Clark, who for many years ran the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, saw “Kingdom” in New York. Click on the play arrow to hear her reaction to seeing it again in Fair Haven.

Clark has devoted considerable time the past few months running hearings and meetings to consider how to tackle youth violence in town. Moved by Saturday’s performance, she said she plans to e-mail all her fellow aldermen to urge them to catch “Kingdom” this weekend. The mayor, too.

“This is very timely,” she said. “This is exactly what we’re talking about.”

The play portrays the influence of the Kings on rootless young Latinos as similar to the influence of another militaristic gang that aggressively recruits them with pie-in-the-sky promises: the U.S. military. Both recruiting organizations end up promoting a never-ending cycle of violence in the false belief that only more killing can stop killing, that urban kids abandoned by family and alienated from mainstream society can find “freedom” and security through a militaristic group. Notions like peace or human rights represent a threat. They come to equal heresy, disloyalty.

The production was especially timely on a week when a drill sergeant-turned-alderman from right across the Quinnipiac River, Alex Rhodeen of Fair Haven Heights, argued that affixing the word “peace” to the official title of a veterans’ memorial would leave veterans feeling “slighted.” It also “concerned” Rhoden to hear that banners near the memorial would promote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the turf claimed by the Kingdom—or in Guantanamo—no one has to worry about such slights or concerns.”

Taken from The New Haven Independent


Immigration Takes Stage In Fair Haven

by Sarah Vanderbilt | Jun 25, 2008 4:04 pm


“Working in close quarters, five Latina immigrants dodge immigration officials and pursue green cards while they work to keep their small business alive. The setting is 1987 Los Angeles, but the immigrant story of the latest Bregamosproduction fits right in to 21st century New Haven.

Real Women Have Curves, the story of five Mexican-Americans struggling to keep their tiny sewing factory, goes up at the black box theater at Fair Haven Junior High School Thursday night and plays through Saturday. (Performances are at 8 p.m. each day, as well as 2 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets, $15, are available at the door.)

The set is small and intimate, but busy with color and clutter: a floral couch, spools and spools of thread, a sewing machine, draped manikins, a fridge, toilet, deodorant, toothbrushes, a coffee pot, a bright pink radio.

Late Monday afternoon, the set was still a work in progress. As he waited for the cast to arrive for rehearsal, Rafael Ramos, the director of Bregamos community theater, fiddled with lights, drilled in a set wall, inserted a shower rod, and tried to get a hold of some wire to secure it in place.


Ramos (pictured) said that the title of this particular play, by Josefina Lopez, grabbed him as he was flipping through a catalog as something that felt right for Bregamos. He read the play, loved it, and brought on Venessa Soto, the female lead from Kingdom, to direct. “It’s so right for New Haven,” he said. “It’s hilarious, but it’s also so important.”

The play takes place during the enforcement of the first amnesty laws in California in the late 1980s. This immigrants’ story clearly resonates decades later. “New Haven is a place that has tried to embrace our immigrants, especially recently with the ID card program, and that’s something that looms above this play,” Soto said.

The play’s title holds the key to its second major theme. “It’s in all of our generations and its in all walks of life, the idea of being thin, this whole westernized idea that to be a real women you have to subscribe to higher standards of beauty,” Soto said. “There are so many poignant issues for women, and it’s not that they get resolved necessarily in the play, but they are still explored and talked about and I think it is in this tiny, tight factory setting that they can really hash out these issues.”


In Kingdom, Soto (pictured) was one of the only women in the cast or crew, as compared with the all female cast of five she is now directing. “It’s just been really great, being surrounded by females, and having that be the focus and the power,” she said.

Maria Nunez, who plays Carmen, hadn’t acted in 15 years, but decided to take a chance on the audition. “The next thing I know, my niece is calling me saying we are in!” Her niece, Pierrette Silverman, plays Carmen’s daughter, Estela.

Silverman, a patron of Bregamos who has never acted before, said this is something she has always wanted to do. And as the vice-president of Planned Parenthood, she has found Real Women a great place to start. “In this play in particular, there’s a lot around the right of women and their reproductive choice, and so that resonates with the work that I do on a daily basis,” she said.

Alison Scaramella plays recent high school graduate Ana, who is trying to get out of the barrio to go to college and become a writer. “It’s pretty timeless,” she said of the play. “We think of ourselves as being so sexually empowered, but a lot of those gender roles and expectations for women haven’t changed all that much.”

Scaramella is the youngest cast member; she just graduated with a degree in theater studies from Connecticut College. “It’s been really fun for me to have a cast full of people who are the ages of the characters they’re playing, roughly,” she said. “I feel very close to these women, and I’ve only known them for three weeks.”

Just like the women in the play, Soto and her cast have bonded as they work at breakneck speed towards a shared goal. “I was just thinking on the way over here, the experience of working on this play is similar to the women’s experience in the factory,” Soto said, “in the fact that we had only a month for rehearsals, the way it’s all very intense, working together for hours and hours and hours on end.”

“It’s a lot more rough around the edges,” she said, compared to other directing jobs—she has taken on tasks like sound directing, costuming and helping with the set that are not usually the domain of a director. “You know, ‘bregamos’ literally means to barter, to trade, to kind of cut around the edges. It’s a lot more work, but I’ve actually taken that as a blessing because you can really learn more when you have to do more.”


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