Guest Post: In the Heights with the Whites– White Students in POC Spaces

This past weekend, from November 21-23, 2019, the musical In The Heights returned to campus after a 20 year hiatus. The show, originally written by Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, featured an entirely POC cast, and was directed by Milton Espinoza Jr. ’22. Demand for the show was incredibly high, and each of the Eventbrite ticket sales (twice a day, once at 12:15p and one at 5:00p) sold out in under 15 seconds. The following is a guest post written by Ricardo Vega ’21 on the events that went down this past weekend.

I had my laptop out on the Eventbrite page at exactly 12:10 pm on Thursday, November 21st which was opening night for the long-anticipated show In the Heights. My evening class got canceled so I was excited to get the chance to see the show because I knew I didn’t have time to go any other day. I continued to refresh the page until 12:15 when the show’s tickets were finally out. I clicked that I wanted 1 ticket and pressed checkout. When I clicked the checkout button, an icon appeared that said: “Tickets are unavailable.” I refreshed the page to see if there was some technical difficulty. I sighed in dismay when I saw that the show was “sold-out.” I checked the time at the bottom of my screen. 12:16 pm. The show sold out in less than one minute. I tried again at 5:00 pm that same day. The tickets sold out at 5:01 pm.

I’m not a theatre person. Even though Wesleyan is known for its supposedly vibrant theatre scene, I’ve only ever been to one performance before this year. It’s not to say that I dislike theatre. On the contrary, I enjoyed the few high school musicals and TV performances that I have seen before. Coming from a low-income background and a family of immigrants, however, I knew nothing about theatre and knew I would never have the money to ever see a live Broadway show. Even at Wesleyan where paying for a play ticket isn’t necessarily a big financial burden, the shows I have heard about didn’t resonate with me. It was mostly white actors playing telling white stories, however, when news came out earlier this semester that a group of students of color were planning to revive Lin Manuel Miranda’s iconic play In the Heights, I was ecstatic. I had no idea what the story was about or what the soundtrack sounded like, but I knew I had to get a ticket to see it. My friends of color that were familiar with the show said that it was “our story,” so I was determined to be able to see this story on stage.

Luckily, I was able to acquire a ticket from one of the members of the show. However, it took multiple lines of communication to be able to even find out that there were some tickets available. I was able to get into the theatre and enjoy the show that night. The performance was amazing. I loved the acting, the music, and the overall story. It was one of the first pieces of theatre that I have seen that I could relate to, partly because the majority of the actors in the show were black and brown (major praises to the cast and crew). However, I looked around the theatre and saw that the majority of the people in the seats were white. The smiles on their faces showed that they were enjoying the show. But part of me wondered how much they could relate to the story of working-class black and brown immigrants considering that we are in an intuition where 17% of the student body is in the top 1% of the income bracket. I chatted with a member of the tech cast after the show and they said that this opening night audience was “less white” compared to the audience at the dress rehearsal. My jaw dropped hearing this, but truthfully, I wasn’t surprised.

Let me just get this straight: of course, a white person can enjoy a show like In the Heights. The play has proven to resonate with many audiences which is why the show has been loved and acclaimed for years. My biggest issue here is the amount of space that Wesleyan’s white audience takes up in the theatre scene. Theatre is a historically exclusive and predominately white activity. Think about who writes the majority of plays and what demographics are the most represented in theatre (both popular plays and student-written productions)? Besides, Broadway ticket can cost over a hundred dollars, making these works inaccessible for low-income people to consume. This already narrows the audience at Wesleyan who are familiar with the theatre scene, making it primarily dominated by white and rich both in the audience and in the representation on stage. A show that focuses on working-class people of color like In the Heights is rare, which was part of the appeal of the show among the communities of color at Wesleyan. However, when white people got tickets to the show, this limited the amount of people of color who could have seen the show and who could have related to the show. Twitter user @jiggyxpapi made this point in a Twitter rant, which was even reposted by the In the Heights Instagram story

I would like to emphasize that I am not putting any blame on the cast or crew of In the Heights. Their job was to make put on a great show and they succeeded. They had little to no say in who got to be in the audience, even though many members did say they wanted to prioritize POC. And again, I’m not saying that In the Heights should have been a “NO WHITE PEOPLE ALLOWED” show. I am just asking that people should take their identities and privileges in consideration when it comes to the amount of space they take in spaces that are for marginalized communities (which is a point that can be extended to any aspect in the Wesleyan community). Because there are plenty of shows created by white artists like Wicked, Les Miserables, and ninety-percent of other shows. However, until we get more artists of color putting on theatre performances, there are not many shows like In the Heights. So for future reference, white people, respect our stories and let us get to watch it. 

 

If you have questions or comments, please email staff[at]wesleying[dot]org