By GINDE BAKER
LANSINGBURGH — During a string of life-changing events in the close-knit neighborhood of Washington Heights, a small bodega owner struggles to find the balance between his community, dealing with loss, and dreams of a better life. This is the plot of the musical called “In The Heights” — and also the Lansingburgh High School drama club’s response to a year without in-person theater.
In the beginning of the pandemic, the Lansingburgh High School drama club fought for its love of theater, initially taking its rehearsals to Zoom.
“At first, we were doing a virtual show,” Jada Rondon, a Lansingburgh senior who will play the role of Abuela, said. “Nobody would have their cameras on; we felt like caged animals.”
In March, Lansingburgh High School returned to hybrid, in-person classes, leaving the students a choice to return to live theater or stay remote. When director Chris Rowlands asked the students if they wanted to put this together quickly, he was not surprised by the answer: they were going to bring in-person theater back to Lansingburgh.
However, constantly changing COVID regulations, social distancing and capacity limitations made putting a show on during a pandemic no easy task. The cast and crew decided to do something they’ve never done before — they proposed taking the theater to the football field.
“The heat was a concern and it was challenging on the voice … you have to make sure you are projecting so people can actually hear you,” Angelo Domingo, who is playing the leading role of Usnavi, said. The students will wear clear masks and practice social distancing during their rehearsals and performances.
Just like the Lansingburgh drama club, “In The Heights” is a story about struggling to make things work within a community under bittersweet circumstances.
“This is a show about people leaving their home,” Domingo said. “Our home is the auditorium and the stage. Realizing what your home is is important and special.”
Rondon goes on to discuss the role “In The Heights” plays in terms of loss, “Being a senior, there are a lot of things you hope to experience, but everything has been stripped away from us this past year.
“In the show, I’m the character that keeps everything together,” she said. “When I’m taken away, the community falls apart and crumbles.”
However, the students aren’t the only people experiencing loss. Rowlands describes this senior class of actors as “one of the hardest classes to say goodbye to” as the pandemic has brought them closer.
There is a happy ending to the Lansingburgh drama club’s story, though. Just recently, as COVID regulations begin to lighten up, the cast and crew received the best news possible: that they can return to their stage.
“In The Heights” will run June 18 and 19 in the Lansingburgh High School auditorium. Tickets are $10 online and at the door. See the details at the Lansingburgh Schools Drama Programs Facebook page.