In September, students of the Hispanic Theatre & Performance course, a class offered through the Languages, Literatures and Cultures Department at Marquette University, were treated to a live performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (creator of ‘Hamilton’) ‘In the Heights’, at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Following the performance there was a reception held where students had the opportunity to meet with the cast and crew, and (if that wasn’t enough) two collaborators of the production came to Marquette’s campus, days following the performance, to speak with the class and to help shed light on the importance of the arts.
This unique behind the scenes experience is thanks to course instructor, Dr. Jeffrey Coleman, an Assistant Professor of Spanish at Marquette who also serves as a member of the Advisory Board for the Milwaukee Rep.
For Dr. Coleman, the typical course requisites, such as readings and discussions, wasn’t enough to emphasize the important role that the arts plays in our lives. Dr. Coleman explains, “When you’re reading a play from the 1600s, you’re like ‘eh’ I see the relevance but not really. But to go see something where the playwright is still alive and you get to talk to the actors, you get to see the performance live, it gives you a different appreciation for the theater rather than just reading the play in class.”
And that is precisely what his Spanish-speaking class–comprised of a mix of undergraduate and graduate students who study the major formal and thematic developments in peninsular Spanish and Spanish American Theater–received with this experience: An awareness of the arts and the impact that it has on society.
‘In the Heights’ is a musical that combines Latin rhythms and dance with hip-hop lyrics to tell individual stories of residents of Washington Heights, a largely Hispanic-American neighborhood in New York City, where community is everything. The play touches on social issues such as love and lust, identity and racism. Throughout the performance the audience sees the struggles, losses and triumphs the characters face individually and as a community.
Dr. Coleman’s students took full advantage of the opportunity to ask their guest speakers, Tony Chiroldes, who plays “Kevin Rosario” in the play, and Chad Bauman, the Executive Director of the Rep, thought-provoking questions about the role that this story, and the arts as a whole, plays in shedding light on some of society’s most difficult issues.
Mr. Chiroldes shared an experience of his regarding the issue of diversity when he was explaining what ‘In the Heights’ was about to a gentleman. “I explained that the play was about celebrating diversity in a mixed community in Washington Heights. The man paused and said to me, ‘Diversity is great just as long as you keep it under control.’” It was moments like this that made him (Chiroldes) realize that he, a Puerto Rican and a person of diversity, was that other that causes so much fear in the Unites States.
Mr. Chiroldes explained how theater can help combat this and many of society’s fears by bringing them to light. “People think, I would rather go to see theater if I’m gonna laugh and not think. But that’s the thing, it’s the fear of not knowing, and that happens a lot with theater. What’s the fear? Sometimes with theater you experience and relive things that you have lived and realize oh. And what’s to be afraid of? It’s just human nature. And I think that’s what this play does, it helps to celebrate my people, our people, with dignity and respect.”
Many of the students stayed after class to continue the discussion and to get copies of their ‘In the Heights’ play signed by Mr. Chiroldes. Interested in learning more about this course or about the Languages department at Marquette? Please visit the Languages, Literatures and Cultures Department website or the Way Klingler College of Arts and Sciences website for information on all 13 of our academic departments.