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What was your first time on stage?
My public debut, for people other than my family, that is, was as a gambling gangster in Guys & Dolls in the fifth grade at South Miami Magnet School For the Arts.
When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
I have been an actor my whole life. From my first pre-K performance during the show that was part of the annual Christmas Dinner of my (very large) extended family, I knew that this is who I was and what I wanted to do. With experience and education, my interests grew to include all things theatrical, including direction and production. My goal is to revolutionize the way audiences experience live theater, bringing it into the hearts and minds of a newly created generation of theater lovers and supporters. For the record, I still perform at Grandmom’s dinner (you try saying “no” to her!).
Are any members of your family in the arts?
I come from a long line of artists of every kind. My parents are both Grand Masters (mega-black belts) in Tae Kwon Do, teaching and performing martial arts ballet. They both love to sing, dance and also perform in Spanish-style equestrian dressage shows (I am not making this up). There are also many musicians, writers, actors and dancers in my extended family, starting with my maternal grandparents, who co-founded a community playhouse in Philadelphia, which has survived for more than sixty years (they are coming up to Boston to see the show!).
Tell us about your training before coming to Boston.
My first theater class was in the third grade, at South Miami Elementary Magnet School For The Arts, which was followed by the South Miami Middle School Magnet, then New World School Of The Arts, in downtown Miami. I also spent three great summers at French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts, in the New York Catskills, before entering Boston Conservatory.
Tell us a little bit about your decision to attend The Boston Conservatory.
It was an easy call. In my mind, the Boston Conservatory was to theater what Harvard was to law and medicine, was situated in the very heart of the performing arts world and would provide the preparation, inspiration and opportunity I knew I needed. From the first interviews, when I met members of the faculty, to now, BoCo has been everything I hoped it would be and so much more.
How is conservatory training different from a more traditional four-year college program?
Although I never attended a traditional college program, and would not want to minimize that choice in any way, I think it would be safe to say that the main difference could be best described in terms of focus and immersion. While our curriculum covers a broad spectrum of higher education subjects, there is still intensive attention paid to both the academic side of theater and the practical training that develops the skills, discipline and professionalism needed to be fully prepared to meet the demands of a full-time career in any area of theater. The work is hard, the pace is lightning-fast and expectations are high. I can’t imagine a better way to train an artist.
What is the best part of your Conservatory training?
There is, really, no “best” part because, thanks to the incredibly extensive curriculum, and our superb faculty, my acting, dance and vocal classes were equally interesting and challenging. There’s no doubt that, throughout what I hope is a long and rewarding career, I will continue to draw from the vast well of knowledge and experience I gained in school, as well as the inspiration and encouragement I received from both the faculty and my fellow students, so many of whom have become, and will remain, lifelong friends and collaborators.
Tell us a little bit about In the Heights.
In The Heights tells its very real, gritty and meaningful story in the most thrilling, creative and thoroughly enjoyable way imaginable. It’s a very “now” musical that forges a new road by taking the struggles of family, love, friendship, striving, coping, surviving and finding oneself that define the lives of people in every corner of our planet, then infuses it with the rich kaleidoscope of passion, tastes, smells and rhythm of the tough, deep-urban Latin world of its setting within New York City’s Washington Heights.
Have you seen the show before?
Yes, I was lucky enough to see the original Broadway production in 2008. It was life changing.
Does this show have any special meaning/significance for you?
In my opinion, In The Heights has revolutionized musical theater as we knew it in this respect: Lin Manuel [Miranda] has created a unique style that speaks meaningfully to today’s emerging audiences, much the way new hit musicals have done in the past. Here, it is a celebration of Latino culture, as reflected in the vibrant community of Washington Heights. It seems like a new door has opened and sent a rush of creative energy out into the theater world. Entering my final year at school, I feel like I’m truly in the right place at the right time.
Tell us about the role of Usnavi.
Usnavi is a young man, “runnin’ just another dime-a-dozen bodega” in a stereotypical immigrant neighborhood, who was brought as a baby to America from the Dominican Republic. His parents died soon after, leaving him to be raised by the neighborhood’s unofficial Abuela (Grandma). While coping with a life he did not choose, Usnavi inwardly leads with his heart and pursues his dreams. It is through Usnavi’s eyes and point of view that we are invited into the lives of his friends, family, and community.
What is your process for approaching any character you play?
The “job” is to make my portrayal seem real to the audience and to my fellow cast members. The challenge is to obscure the “seem-ness” and make it actually happen on the stage. Art, we are taught, lies in the concealment of art. It’s a long process for me and generally means total immersion, focus and eliminating as many distractions as possible, which can be quite a challenge, especially when there’s an English essay (or three) due very soon or someone in your life expecting a return phone call (sorry!).
What are your plans after In The Heights wraps up?
To wrap up my last year at Boston Conservatory, claim my BFA degree, then get wrapped in whatever opportunities may be pursuable “out there,” be they new roles, new companies and/or – if you’ll permit me a moment in Fantasyland – eventual founding of my own theater. (Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?)