Wednesday, July 22, 2015

In the Heights - meet cast member Andres Alejandro Ponce

There are so many things to talk about and discuss when it comes to In the Heights. I could sit here and type for two hours, so I'll try ad focus on my experience as Usnavi with the community. Usnavi grew up learning and adapting to many cultures. His whole journey is about finding out where and what home is. While he tries to figure that out he also has to make sure he is making progress in his life. That is a path I am all too familiar with. I have many homes: Home is with my Mama and siblings, home is down at JMU with all of my best friends, and more recently I have found a home at LTA. My definition of home is a place where you can be yourself and be surrounded by people you love. That's exactly what Usnavi is looking for (not knowing he's had it all along). Usnavi also struggles with many financial issues because he does not come from a family of wealth, education, or experience in America. Everything he knows he's learned from those around him and his other influence: Hip-Hop. For many Latin Americans it is hard to succeed because historically we are not as educated and supported as a culture. Although we have come a long way, many Latin American families cannot get out of that rut. Usnavi is all about moving forward and using the resources he has to make better opportunities for himself and the ones he loves. That is a very personal journey that I completely understand. I am a first generation Latin American, so many of the things I have learned and experienced are things that my parents never were able to experience when they were my age. They put their blood, sweat, and tears into making sure that my siblings and I have the same opportunities that any other American could have.

Usnavi is an amazing and by far the most fun character I have ever played. His positive attitude, his love for his friends and family, determination for progress, and his adorkable demeanor makes him (in my opinion) one of the most adored characters in musical theatre. He shows love and kindness to almost everyone he meets. He takes care of his beloved Abuela, and will do anything to make sure she is comfortable and safe. He fights to make sure his younger cousin isn't involved in some of the bad influences that surround Washington Heights. He is kind and respectful to women, but is also easily swayed by the beautiful women. Playing Usnavi has allowed me to realize the similarities and differences I have with the character. He's allowed me to understand what it means to work hard and fight for what you believe in and never give up. He has a dream that always motivates his actions. I like to think I do as well, but the drive it gives Usnavi is something that I hope one day I can have.

I hope audiences will take a few things away from this magnificent show. Representing Latin American culture has never been a priority to Broadway. This show does a glorious job of accurately representing our culture along with the fun and beauty of it. In a world where people are still discriminated by race, gender, sexual preference, and identity, In The Heights shows all audience members that no matter who you are, where you're from, or who you love, you can still belong. In The Heights has been an amazing experience, because most shows are nothing like it. There aren't many popular shows that have such a rich cultural composition. Lin-Manuel Miranda was able to write in Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, Hip-Hop, R&B, and many other styles of music in this show. It opens the door to audiences who usually may not come to musical. Another difference that isn't too common is real sense of community. This is truly an ensemble show that truly succeeds when all of the cast is one whole and not a bunch of individuals.

I was born a performer – ask my parents! I would always love singing, dancing, and performing for anyone who would watch. I grew up to be a soccer player, but I couldn't escape my love for performing. My first role was in Oklahoma as Judd Fry in 8th grade, and from there on I looked for different ways to perform and different skills to hone. My journey lead me to audition for James Madison University's Musical Theatre Program which I am now a proud member of. My wonderful advisor Kate Arecchi has been the best guide I can ask for. She even turned me to LTA to audition for In The Heights. She has been a great mentor, teacher, counselor, director, and friend. If I were to give anyone advice to anyone interesting in working in theatre it would be this: Know yourself. Know who you are, what you stand for, what you believe in, where your home is, who you love, and where your home is. As long as you know that no one's opinion of you should ever affect you. If I've learned anything in the short time I've been in this game it is that the only opinions that matter are the ones who are going help you grow. Don't let anyone tell you what you can or can't be because they don't know you like you know you. Just a year ago, someone told me I wouldn't be old enough to play Usnavi for another 5 years. I guess the jokes on them. Thanks for reading I hope you enjoy the show. Alabanza!

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