Continuing this week’s In the Heights Takeover, today’s feature is an interview with Gabriela Garcia. Like Damian Buhagiar who I spoke to yesterday, she has been with the show since the beginning a year ago. To celebrate this anniversary, Gabriela sat down with me to discuss taking on the role of Nina earlier this year, how being in the ensemble ‘community’ helped with Nina’s characterisation, and what she would do with $96,000…
Rona Kelly: You’re playing Nina in In the Heights, amazing. How would you describe your character in three words?
Gabriela Garcia: Three Words?!
RK: Just to make it really tough!
GG: Determined…oh God, this is hard! What the word for a person who wants to change the world?
RK: Empowering, impassioned?
GG: Impassioned, passionate. I’m lost for words!
RK: And what do you think her main cause, her main drive is that she’s passionate about?
GG: I think when she starts the show, her main drive is to not disappoint. But I think by the end of the show, she realises that that’s not point. The point is to use your family, the love of your family to succeed. I mean, there are different definitions of success, joy is success. So she realises that her dropping out is not a failure, it’s just a learning curve. So I guess it’s learning.
RK: And you were with it since the beginning, weren’t you? And now you’ve become Nina! Can you talk about that journey a bit?
GG: Well it’s been a dream. I started off as Yolanda, she’s a girl in the ensemble. And to be able to see the show from that angle as well has taught me a lot about the show, and about Nina actually. In know how Yolanda used to see Nina, so I get to use that. I guess now that I get the opportunity to do Nina every night, I know how the community feels about Nina. So I feel like I have a very strong connection with everyone from the ensemble; it adds a lot to the show. Working in that way, I’ve got the best of both worlds.
RK: And that’s nice as well, that connection to the community. Because your first song is ‘Breathe’, and that’s all about Nina thinking the community has these big expectations for her. So I guess that feeds into your performance.
RK: Is that one of your favourite songs from the show?
GG: Yes. I don’t actually have a favourite one; I love all of them, I couldn’t really pick one out. But ‘Breathe’ is actually one of the hardest to perform. It’s the one where it’s at the beginning of the show, you’re nervous, you’re like, ‘Oh my God! There’s some really high notes here! How am I going to do it?’ But when you breathe that first breath, you take this breath with the community, you see everyone. You see people supporting you and going, ‘Come on, come on Nina. You can do this!’ It sound so cheesy, but it’s so true. The support that you get from your peers is magical, it’s really magical. And I get it every night with ‘Breathe’.
RK: And you have that same strong sense of community on stage; having spend so much time together there, is this the same off stage? Do you spend a lot of your time off stage together too?
GG: So much time! I mean, we have two dressing rooms: one for the boys, one for the girls. So there’s no different dressing rooms for different people; we’re all together. We all warm up together, we all do our hair together. It is like family!
RK: And what would you do if you won $96,000?
GG: Good question! I would probably go to Tapachula in Mexico. It’s a town I lived in for two years when I was three to four years old. And I would probably go to an orphanage, it’s called Misión México and I would probably just spend the money there with the kids. I know that they surf, so I would ask them to teach me to surf and I could teach them to sing and dance. So I would love to have six months or a year just there. I know that $96,000 would change a lot of their lives.
RK: And finally, what is your favourite moment from the show?
GG: One of my favourite moments is in ‘Carnaval del Barrio’, when Usnavi says: ‘Maybe you’re right Sonny, call in the coroners. Maybe we’re powerless, a corner full of foreigners’. Just that moment ‘How do you want to face it?’ The passionate response to adversity, ‘I’ma fly this flag that I got in my hand!’
RK: That is an amazing moment! Thanks for joining us!
GG: Thank you!