The importance of diversity is taught in many ways at Marquette, but students in Dr. Jeffrey Coleman’s Hispanic Theatre & Performance course were treated to a unique experience that included Lin-Manual Miranda’s “In the Heights.”
Before Miranda wrote “Hamilton,” he wrote and starred in “In the Heights,” a musical that celebrates diversity by combining Latin rhythms and dance with hip-hop lyrics. The play tells the diverse stories of residents of Washington Heights, a largely Hispanic-American neighborhood in New York City, where community is everything.
It’s a perfect show for Marquette students to gain knowledge about the struggles, losses and triumphs the Hispanic characters face individually and as a community.
In September, students in Coleman’s course offered through the Languages, Literatures and Cultures Department went to a live performance of “In the Heights” at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Following the performance, students met with the cast and crew, and two collaborators of the production came to Marquette’s campus to speak with the class and shed light on the importance of the arts.
For Coleman, who serves as an advisory board member at The Rep, the typical course requisites, such as readings and discussions, weren’t enough to emphasize the important role that the arts plays in our lives.
“When you’re reading a play from the 1600s, you’re like, ‘Eh, I see the relevance but not really,’” he said. “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 theatre rather than just reading the play in class.”
And that is precisely what his Spanish-speaking class — composed of a mix of undergraduate and graduate students who study the major formal and thematic developments in peninsular Spanish and Spanish American Theatre — received with this experience: an awareness of the arts and the impact that it has on society.
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.
Chiroldes shared an experience of his regarding the issue of diversity when he was explaining what “In the Heights” was about to a man he had met.
“I explained that the play was about celebrating diversity in a mixed community in Washington Heights,” he said. “The man paused and said to me, ‘Diversity is great just as long as you keep it under control.’”
Chiroldes explained how theatre can help combat this bigoted thinking and many of society’s fears by bringing them to light.
“People think, I would rather go to see theatre if I’m gonna laugh and not think,” he told the Marquette students. “But that’s the thing: it’s the fear of not knowing, and that happens a lot with theatre. What’s the fear? Sometimes with theatre 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.”
Celebrating diversity and inclusion at Marquette University