After receiving intense backlash for the decision to stock a main-stage show with professional actors, the College of Fine Arts has recast its upcoming musical, “In the Heights,” with minority students at the University. Beyond recasting, the college also hired an entirely new creative team.
In October, The Daily Texan reported that nine of the 12 lead roles in “In the Heights,” a musical which follows 12 Dominican-American teenagers living in New York, had been given to professional actors. At the time, the musical’s director said the decision was made because of the limited number of students of color in the department.
Producer Brant Pope, chair of the department of theatre and dance, said the department has gone beyond recasting the musical — they also brought in a new creative team, including a new director, choreographer and musical director.
“We brought in a new directing team because there was such a bad feeling,” Pope said. “We just wanted to start fresh.”
Pope said the new team was better equipped to cast diverse actors, in part because the director and choreographer are Latino.
“I think they were able to use [the] natural networking they had to encourage students who hadn’t auditioned before,” Pope said. “The second team worked a little more successfully with some of the performers that the first team felt they had trouble with.”
Pope said the audition process this time around was open to students of all majors.
Cassie Gholston, director of marketing for the department of theatre and dance, said the number of undergraduate students who are awarded roles has increased tremendously from previous years. From 2012 to 2013, there were 33 main stage roles, 33 percent of which were given to undergraduate students. This year, there are 72 main stage roles and 94 percent have been given to undergraduate students.
“There has never been a time when it’s been more exciting to be an undergraduate theater major,” Pope said.
Theatre and dance freshman Trey Curtis, who was originally cast in an ensemble role, was recast and will now portray one of the main characters. Curtis said he was thrilled to audition again when more parts for students opened up.
“It’s great that undergraduates can have the opportunity to perform on the main stage,” Curtis said. “As a freshman, I’m thrilled about it.”
Though Curtis said he was excited more roles opened up, he was not originally bothered by the number of professional actors cast.
“Having professional actors can be really helpful because they could essentially teach workshops,” Curtis said. “‘In The Heights’ has some characters that are significantly older, such as the abuela, so it makes sense in a way.”
Theatre and dance sophomore Max Torrez said he was taken aback by the original decision to fill the majority of the cast with professionals.
“I knew we had the kids to play those appropriate roles,” Torrez said. “I wasn’t surprised that we had guest artists, but I was surprised with the amount.”
The play, written specifically for Latino actors, opens up many doors for minority students, according to Torrez.
“Not a lot of roles are written specifically for minority students,” Torrez said. “It really opens up opportunities for them to showcase their talents.”