How to Break

Amber Reauchean Williams as Ana, by Benjamin Heller

Amber Reauchean Williams as Ana, by Benjamin Heller

Ignited by an electric collision of theatre, breaking, and lyrical flow, How to Break tells the story of two teenage dancers battling their hospital caregivers for control over their own bodies. Small gaps in race, class, and language between Ana (a popper with leukemia), Joel (a b-boy with sickle cell), and their treatment team – a pediatric hematologist, a music therapist and a nurse with a beatboxing problem – create life-threatening rifts. As the nurse mixes patients’ breath and IV beeps into beatboxed hospital soundscapes, and the doctor and therapist wrestle over the health benefits of art versus painkillers, Ana and Joel break through their diagnoses in search of a gut understanding of what it means to be ill.

Hip-hop playwright Aaron Jafferis – writer-in-residence at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital – brought stories of teenagers living with cancer and sickle cell disease to beatboxer Yako 440, folk rocker Rebecca Hart, and the Mixing Texts Collective (breaking pioneers Kwikstep and Rokafella, beatboxer Adam Matta, and director Christopher Edwards), who together created an original musical exploding our notions of sickness and health.


How to Break is performed by a cast of 5. All of the musicis created live by 2 of the 5 actors. The music therapist plays guitar, and the nurse is played by a beatboxer who turns hospital soundscapes into an orchestra of sound.


Collective Consciousness Theatre and Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital have developed a How to Break toolkit to facilitate collaborations between theaters, hospitals and medical schools interested in using How to Break to ignite patient- and caregiver-created art, workshops and conversations about healthcare.

Aden as cancer by Paul Duda


  • SPKRBOX/National Theatre of Norway 2014
  • Collective Consciousness Theatre/Hi-ARTS 2013
  • HERE & Hip-Hop Theater Festival 2012


  • National Alliance for Music Theatre festival 2014
  • Oregon Shakespeare Festival 2010 & 2011
  • New York Theatre Barn 2011
  • The BIG ROOM 2010
  • “Critic’s Choice. With the raw spirit of the hard-hitting ‘Kingdom’... rap, Latin sounds and razor-edged rock tap into pure blasts of emotion, like a needle dropped straight on the brain. A bold step forward for the Globe.” – San Diego Union-Tribune
  • About Aaron

    Aaron Jafferis is a hip hop poet and playwright. Read his bio, his CV, or contact him.