Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month With 'In The Heights'

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Ensemble performing opening number "In The Heights" song

From September 8th to the 18th, the Theatrical Outfit and Aurora Theatre co-produced and performed the In The Heights musical in downtown Atlanta. In The Heights is a Tony Award winning, Broadway, Hip-Hop musical written by Lin-Manuel Miranda who wrote the famous musical, Hamilton. The musical captures the lives of Latino people living in the barrio (neighborhood) of Washington Heights in New York City.

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, the two theaters co-produced and performed In the Heights, which sold out nearly every night for the two weeks it premiered in downtown Atlanta and for six weeks in Lawrenceville, Georgia.

The Tony award-winning opening act, self-titled "In the Heights" was performed by the play's protagonist Usnavi (Diego Klock-Pérez). Usnavi is the noble owner of the neighborhood's convenient store and works diligently in the name of his deceased parents and his beloved country, the Dominican Republic.

The show has a strong sense of womanhood with three different generations of Latin women represented:

1.) Abuela Claudia (grandmother Cladia) played by Felicia Hernandez is an immigrant from Cuba whose family moved to New York when she was younger to live the American dream. Each day, Abuela Claudia plays the lottery with Paciencia y Fe (patience and faith) hoping that one day she'll hit the jackpot. 2.) Vanessa (Julissa Sabino), is the crush of every guy in the town, but desires a better life out of the barrio!and in a nicer apartment and a less impoverished neighborhood. Her desire is to make it out of the hood. 3.) Lastly, Nina Rosario (Diany Rodriguez) represents the American dream fulfilled for many of the Latino people of Washington Heights. She makes it out of the barrio, landing a scholarship at Stanford University. However, Nina faces the pressure of being the neighborhood success and when worse comes to worse may have to return home.

Moreover, abuela Claudia's "struggling with English" represents the struggle of many first generation Latinos who migrate to the U.S. while Nina Rosario is the third generation of Latinos in that she learns Spanish instead.

The Theatrical Outfit & Aurora cast also included Garrett Turner as Benny, Nina's love interest; Anthony Rodriguez and Maria Rodriguez-Sager as the Rosario, Nina's parents; Lilliangina Quiñones as Daniela, India S. Tyree as Carla, the gossiping girls who work at the salon with Vanessa; Christian Magby as Sonny, Usnavi's cousin; and a dynamic ensemble: Pytron Parker, Joshua Quinn, Amber Hamilton and Candace Mclellan to name a few.

Throughout the musical, the characters identify, celebrate and bring awareness to various aspects of the Latino and Hispanic community such as nationality and pride, family and the American dream. It even alludes to issues of social immobility and racial inequality along with the familiar, friendly faces such as the neighborhood Piragua guy played by Juan Carlos Unzueta.

Although the musical is based on the Latino experience of New York City, many can identify with the characters in the play. Former, Clark Atlanta University student, Tina Fear who was the show's Dance Captain and Ensemble member shared with us how the show impacted her.

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Tina Fears

Interviewer: As a black woman from Los Angeles, California how did you identify with a musical based on the lives of Latino people in New York?

Fears:

It took me back my childhood because the part of L.A. I grew up in was extremely diverse. We were introduced to the Piragua carts and shaved ice after school; so, there was a lot of things. I can be honest, there was some stuff that was really new to me, but being a person who is a part of the arts is an experience where you're constantly learning. And I don't know where my people are from. I could be Caribbean, Cuban, Haitian. So, I embraced it like it was my own experience. There were some things I knew being from L.A. and some stuff that was new to me, but I gained an appreciation for Latin culture through my performance on In The Heights.

Fears also spoke to the dynamic between the cast members which made the show such a success.

Interviewer: How was the chemistry between the cast members and production team?


Fears:

Oh my God! It was like a family, and let me tell you why. The third day into our rehearsal, we had a potluck and everybody brought dishes that were native to their families. There were Caribbean dishes, dishes from Cuba, I brought jerk chicken. You know once you break bread it just does something. When everyone sits down and eat, all the tenseness and the weirdness of getting to know these people just goes away. I can only credit that to the production team, Anthony Rodriguez and Justin Anderson. They felt it was important to create an atmosphere of family very early on. We were family and I hope you could see that on stage.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Tina Fears shared what she appreciates about Hispanic culture.

Interviewer: What are some aspects of Hispanic culture do you appreciate?

Fears:

The sense of family. Just the sense of pride that my Hispanic brothers and sisters take in who they are and their journey. I'll be honest that at the beginning there was some conversation. The African American experience is a little bit different. A lot of Hispanic people were immigrants. They wanted to come to America and start a better life, whereas all of my ancestors were brought here, and had to be resilient people and adapt. So, a lot of those conversations happened among the cast. But if there is anything I would take away from my Hispanic brother and sisters, it would be the sense of family and pride.

During her time at Clark Atlanta University, Fears studied Education and cheered with the CAU Cheerleader team (Cheer Phi!) from 2001 to 2003 later transferring to the Art Institute where she received her bachelor's degree. Fears has had much success in her career, working with renowned artists such as Smokie Norful, Deitrick Haddon, Melonie Feona and Usher. Additionally, she worked with BET, VH1 and starred in a Sony Pictures production. In addition to her work with these renowned names, Fears is the CEO of a dance company in Atlanta called Stage Ready where she works with and trains new and aspiring talent.

When asked to give her most memorable moment out of her entire career, Fears states:

The most memorable I would say was working with Smokie Norful. His big song was "I need you now". A lot of people know him as a crooner, you know someone who sits at the piano and *Fears sings* Not a second or another minute. You know they just know him for singing and playing the piano. So, I got a phone call after working with another client of mine, [saying] "Smokie Norful has this new upbeat song and he is doing a performance at the BET Celebration of Gospel and nobody knows what to do with it." It was just God! They got a recommendation from someone else and took a chance on me. And it was a groundbreaking performance for him. His son was in the performance; we opened with Tye Tribett. So, getting to do what I love with a well-known artist in a way that no one has ever seen him before and it be received was like amazing!

On Sunday, September 18th, In The Heights had its last show of the season at the Theatrical Outfit. However, you can see more from the Theatrical Outfit and Aurora theatres on their websites: http://www.auroratheatre.com/
http://www.theatricaloutfit.org/

For more information on Tina Fears, please follow her @tinafears on her social media accounts.