Countryside Community Theatre’s Historic Production of “In the Heights” Spotlights Local Diverse Talent

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By Maya Chavez, Hola America 

Countryside Community Theatre is breaking new ground with its latest production, “In the Heights,” marking a historic moment for the Quad Cities’ theatrical community. Cindy Ramos, President of the Countryside Community Theatre, shares insights into the journey, significance, and aspirations of this landmark musical.

“In the Heights,” a book by Quiara Alegría Hudes turned product of Lin-Manuel Miranda who is famous for creating “Hamilton”, is set in New York City’s Washington Heights. This neighborhood in far north Manhattan is where generations of Latinos settled upon immigrating to the city, primarily afro-Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. Ramos describes the story as a heartfelt narrative following Usnavi, a bodega owner and his community who all have, “their own hopes, challenges, and cultural heritage.” The plot is vibrant and exciting, filled with “infectious music, dynamic choreography” that celebrates the life, joy, and the resilience of immigrants and new Americans.

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The theatre’s decision to produce “In the Heights” was driven by the desire to reflect their audience, particularly the Hispanic community in the Quad City area. Ramos explains that they started planning two years ago. “We loved the music and the message it sends about community, diversity, and dreams.” This ambition was bolstered by a grant that encouraged underserved youth to participate in the arts, allowing the theatre to provide free tickets to children who might not have experienced live theatrical performances. “As part of our audience development, we began visiting various community groups, including the Davenport LULAC Council. We are also fortunate to be a member of the Greater Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber and the contacts we were able to make through the chamber has been a driving force in our success with ‘In the Heights.’”

What sets this production apart is its cast, predominantly composed of people of color (POC). Ramos emphasizes the importance of authentic representation stating, “Dying a person’s hair black and having them tan their skin to portray ‘Latino’ is not allowed, unlike productions that frequently have this happen, such as West Side Story.”

This production features the largest number of Latinos and POC ever to perform on stage in the Quad Cities, spanning Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois. This milestone is significant not only for the theatre but also for the local community. “We had people audition in person and submit video auditions from as far away as Iowa City, the Chicago area, parts of Wisconsin, and Missouri,” reveals Ramos. The theatre hopes that with this production, it will pave the way for more diverse involvement and production within the Quad Cities area.

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Since their announcement at the Mercado on Fifth, the casting process was thorough and community-driven. Although there were some challenges while creating this spectacular production, the cast have had their experience and hopes to inspire more members of the community to become involved in the arts. Scott Rasso, who plays the role of Kevin Rosario, reflects on the character, “I see so much more of myself reflected back at me. Kevin is a father, a husband, a business owner, and a contributing member of society. He wants the best for his company, but not at the expense of his family. He is still processing some toxic things from his childhood, is cognizant of his weaknesses, and is careful not to perpetuate the generational trauma, so that he can break that cycle. This is why representation matters!”

Abi Jensen plays Nina Rosario, a Puerto Rican-American and first-generation college student and says, “I hope that our production can serve as a way to highlight the inequities that minorities, specifically racial and economic minorities, struggle with, along with weaving a tale of the beauty that can be found within a community of various backgrounds.”

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In conjunction with the production at the theater, there are planned performances at Mercado on Fifth and special events like meet-and-greet opportunities with the cast. Ramos encourages the community to support local theatre by purchasing tickets and engaging with them on social media.

Ramos has high hopes for the future of diversity and representation in community theatres in the Quad Cities and hopes for increased involvement in various roles within the theatre. She explains that she has the “privilege and honor of being the first person of color to be the President of Countryside Community Theatre.” Ramos is taking the lead in the Quad Cities, as she creates a gateway for diverse leadership in the arts. “We’ve received countless thank-yous. This show is sparking conversations about heritage and identity.”

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Countryside Community Theatre’s production of “In the Heights” will be running June 28-30 & July 5-7 at the North Scott Fine Arts Auditorium in Eldridge, IA. You can find tickets at countryside.booktix.com.

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