AMERICAN THEATRE | Who Will You Encourage?

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Cristina Pla-Guzman with Stephen Schwartz on the Academic Theatre Affiliation gathering in September. (Picture courtesy of EdTA)

Hi there.

A small whisper echoes onstage.

Hi there.

Louder this time: Heeeeelllooo.

Enter stage Left. Ten years previous. A ball of untamed, frizzy, darkish brown curly hair. A bit too tall. A bit too vast. A second-generation Cuban American who usually felt just a little an excessive amount of, in additional methods than one, tiptoes onto the stage able to sing her coronary heart out. 

The truth might need been a bit much less dramatic, however that’s the way in which she remembers it. Perhaps it was her love of the highlight, or the tales her grandfather regaled her with about his love of music and his quick stint as a singer in Cuba. Regardless of the trigger, being a performer was all she dreamed of.

Cue Magnificence and the Beast.

It was her first journey to the town and her first Broadway present. Nobody instructed her she couldn’t sing from the viewers. And from then on, she was hooked. Hooked. Nothing will ever shine as shiny as these stage lights. She now goals of the marquees in NYC’s theatre district.

However really working within the theatre grew to become a really difficult, unrequited love story for a younger Cuban American who was an excessive amount of: too tall, too vast, too brown… and but not sufficient—or so she was instructed. Each time she opened her mouth to sing a showtune, she was instructed that the sound wasn’t “musical theatre” sufficient. She felt alone. Remoted. Sadly, it’s a narrative that so many BIPOC individuals uniquely share within the theatre world. It’s the story of individuals in all places on the surface trying in.

Nonetheless, she discovered that she couldn’t eat, sleep, or survive with out the theatre. The theatre was and nonetheless is every part to her.

Quick ahead 30ish years.

Nonetheless an excessive amount of, positively taller and now accumulating wrinkles, a really proud second-generation Cuban American with large goals takes the stage, each actually and figuratively. Her love affair with the theatre has grown and blossomed through the years. To her lifelong love of theatre, she has added training as an equal ardour. She was honored as a nationwide 2016 Kennedy Heart’s and Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Instructor, and is a 2019 fellow of the O’Neill Theatre Heart’s Nationwide Critics Institute. She is extremely proud to be one among Theatre Communications Group’s Rising Leaders of Coloration, and she is going to later be named the 2022 recipient of the Stephen Schwartz Musical Theatre Instructor of the 12 months Award, offered by the ASCAP Basis.

For the final 19 years, she has devoted her life to the theatre and her college students, with the hope of impacting the theatre neighborhood as a instructing artist, author, theatre critic, director, and actress. The little woman grew into herself. “Cristinita” became Cristina, and she or he is me.

In one of many grasp courses on the Academic Theatre Affiliation (EdTA) Convention held in Los Angeles, I’m requested, “Why are you a theatre educator?” Quicker than I might suppose, quicker than I might rationalize, I say, “I wish to be the instructor I wanted once I was youthful.” Loud applause rang by way of the room. I had discovered my individuals: instructing artists who love their job and their college students, generally past motive. Now that these phrases had sprung from my lips, I wanted to mirror: What had I actually wanted once I was younger? I wanted somebody to inform me that my variations had been my superpower, and that there was certainly a neighborhood within the theatre if I seemed (and labored) exhausting sufficient. So what was I going to do with my time on this planet to create space within the theatre for individuals like myself?

The following thought was how necessary inspiration is, not just for college students however for educators. And instantly I believed concerning the individuals who had impressed me to grow to be the theatre artist and educator I’m in the present day.

Cue Gloria Estefan.

Gloria Estefan.

Each phrase, each drumbeat, and each sway of the hips linked me to music in a approach I might by no means absolutely clarify. In reality, given a couple of extra paragraphs, this might simply flip right into a Gloria Estefan love letter. She formed a lot of who I used to be as a performer once I was in center college and highschool as a result of I noticed a little bit of myself in her. Gloria Estefan got here into my life precisely once I wanted her. Rising up within the Nineteen Eighties as a younger woman within the Hispanic neighborhood residing in America, I didn’t see many individuals who seemed like me within the media. In truth, I might discover nobody who seemed even remotely like me in motion pictures, onstage, or in magazines on the drugstore. Was there a spot for me? For us, my individuals?

Gloria Estefan confirmed the world {that a} Cuban lady might command the eye of the world. She made her crossover into English- language pop simply as my frontal lobe was forming. She is without doubt one of the causes I believed that, sure, I can. My very first and solely fan letter was to Gloria proper after her “Popping out of the Darkish” tour. You’ll be able to’t think about the enjoyment I skilled when, in beneficiant response to my fan letter, she despatched a field stuffed with live performance shirts, CDs, and a letter from her, all to be picked up at her restaurant, Larios on the Seashore, in South Seashore. Quick ahead years later to the tears streaming from my eyes watching On Your Ft!, a stage present about Gloria’s life and music, on the Broadway stage. I could by no means get well. This was a narrative the place a Hispanic lady wasn’t a software to inform the story; she was the story.

Cue Anna Deavere Smith.

Intersectionality was one thing I believed an increasing number of about. I wasn’t simply Hispanic; I used to be additionally a girl. One who usually couldn’t discover a story the place the lady wasn’t there as a romantic curiosity. To make issues worse, I used to be being bombarded with messages that instructed me that the components of me that had been “an excessive amount of” weren’t meant to be seen onstage.

Anna Deavere Smith. (Picture by Kelly Mosher)

I used to be first launched to Anna in my BFA theatre program at Florida Worldwide College. She took the theatre by storm by utilizing her superpowers: writing,and performing her personal devised work. She was proof that if the world doesn’t invite you to the social gathering, you throw your personal. I’ll always remember studying Fires within the Mirror for my playwriting class. Little did I notice {that a} homework task would change my view on the world, completely and endlessly. For me, Anna Deavere Smith herself embodies insurrection. She rebelled in opposition to what theatre is “supposed” to be and cast her profession by centering the tales she felt obsessed with sharing. This challenged my very own work as an artist and gave option to me creating my very own one- particular person present.

Her work additionally reworked me as an educator. Two years in a row, my college students wrote their very own devised theatre piece titled “Uncensored Truths,” which had been among the many most rewarding experiences for my college students and myself. Once I take into consideration what sort of artist I hope to be in the future, it’s Anna Deavere Smith. She modified my total view of what the theatre is. She cast her personal path and nonetheless to today is creating essentially the most inspirational work.

Cue Lin-Manuel Miranda.

My love affair with this power of nature started approach earlier than Hamilton. It began merely. I really like playbills. I acquire them by the lots of (the literal lots of). My college students know this: Playbills for the various exhibits I’ve been to, and lots of I’ve obtained as presents from college students, are proudly displayed in my classroom, workplace, on any clean wall, actually. For a self-proclaimed theatre geek residing in Miami, any playbills coming from NYC, the theatre capital of the world, take a particular place within the show.

Lin-Manuel Miranda. (Picture by Matthew Murphy)

The playbill given to me years in the past for just a little present you could know known as Within the Heights marks a second that modified the trajectory of my life. After watching the present and listening to the solid album on a loop (96,000 {dollars} holler!), I’ve by no means felt extra seen in my life. This led me to direct Within the Heights, in a college manufacturing the place the efficiency got here with classes on the immigrant story, discussions about assimilation, prolonged debates on gentrification, and school-wide assemblies. Everybody in the entire neighborhood was invested when the curtains lastly rose. A sure variety of completely happy tears are to be anticipated after a highschool efficiency from proud thespians and their equally proud dad and mom. However this was like none different: The Hispanic neighborhood got here out in full power to see themselves onstage—actually see themselves onstage, not in a model  by way of the white media. To really see themselves: as abuelas who cared deeply for grandkids that will or will not be organic, as dad and mom who sacrifice their very own materials wants to provide their children a possibility in America higher than their very own. As the primary era in my household to get our faculty levels, my sisters, cousins, and I knew about that sacrifice. We noticed ourselves within the sacrifices the households made for a greater life in America depicted by the characters within the musical, nevertheless it was about a lot extra. My complete neighborhood noticed themselves and our music on superb show.

Seeing our households onstage contributed to the boldness I needed to lastly step on the stage as an grownup. When Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote Within the Heights, it confirmed me how there was a spot for the Hispanic neighborhood to exist within the theatre. Most significantly, he confirmed all of us there’s a place for us. 

The theatre is imperfect. Numerous change remains to be wanted to totally make Black and brown communities really feel welcome, each onstage and within the viewers. However I’ve hope. If I might speak to the 10-year-old ball of untamed curls shaking on stage attempting to make her voice heard, I’d inform her to maintain dreaming large. There can be individuals inspiring you. And who is aware of? Perhaps you’ll encourage the subsequent era.

Cristina Pla-Guzman is a author and educator based mostly in Miami.

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