Robert Hartwell
Robert Hartwell in ‘Breaking New Ground” (Photo: Max)

A trailer just dropped for a new home renovation show with a difference. Breaking New Ground will follow the journey of Robert Hartwell, a gay, Broadway performer, choreographer and entrepreneur, as he renovates an old house in Massachusetts. 

However, it’s a house with a history.

“This is a renovation story 200 years in the making,” Hartwell says in the trailer.

“When I bought this house, it struck a nerve because here was a gay Black man owning a plantation-style home, saying that we can include ourselves where they have worked so hard to exclude us,” he explains.

Although Massachusetts moved to abolish slavery in 1783, at the time this house was built in 1820, “slavery was still legal in many U.S. states” says Hartwell.  

The Emancipation Proclamation followed in 1863. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that year that the last remaining previously legally enslaved people learned they were free in Texas. News of the proclamation took time to reach the state due the Civil War. That’s why June 19 is now commemorated as Juneteenth each year.

“There are rooms in this home that I wouldn’t be able to step into. How beautiful that we actually get to wake up in this space. That’s life to me.” 

Hartwell says he wanted to turn the house into something beautiful, both for himself and to honor his ancestors. 

Watch the trailer below. 

“I’ve never been prouder to be a black man”

Hartwell has appeared on Broadway in the shows Memphis: The Musical, Cinderella, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Motown: The Musical, and the Tony Award-winning revival of Hello, Dolly! As an entrepreneur, he is also the Founder and Artistic Director of The Broadway Collective. Its mission is to train the next generation of Broadway stars. 

In 2020, he went viral with a social media posting revealing he had bought the Massachusetts house. 

“3 weeks ago I found this house online. I said ‘This is my house’. I called the seller and was told it was a cash-only offer and that ‘I’m sure that takes you off the table’. Don’t you ever underestimate a hard working black man. 

“I saw the house last week and when I walked in I knew I was home. The house was built in 1820 for the Russell family who owned the cotton mill in town. Slavery was still legal. When the agent asked me why I wanted such a large house I said it was ‘a generational move’. I know this house is bigger than me. I wish I could’ve told my ancestors when they were breaking their backs in 1820 to build this house that 200 years later a free gay black man was going to own it and fill it with love and find a way to say their name even when 200 years later they still thought I would be ‘off the table’. We are building our own tables. 

“I’ve never been prouder to be a black man. Come to my White House any time. I can’t wait to have you! Glory to God in the highest. I’m a homeowner.”

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