PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — ‘In the Heights’ is moving from El Barrio to the River City.
Peoria Players Theatre is tapping into the Latin culture for its upcoming production of the Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda musical.
The colorful musical centers on Hispanic characters in the Latino neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York with themes of family, love, immigration, gentrification, and community.
Deric Kimler, Executive Director of Central Illinois Friends, is stepping into the director’s seat for the show.
“We have a really good arts program here in Peoria Illinois,” Kimler said. “Peoria theater has always been a staple in the Greater Peoria area but it’s not without its faults and one of those faults is constantly casting non-Hispanic people in Hispanic roles.”
Kimler said when the musical came out he thought it was inevitable before a Peoria theater would put on a production, but he said he noticed a slight disconnect between the Hispanic community and the local theater world, such as the lack of Hispanic actors and directors.
“Knowing the Hispanic community is alive and thriving here in Peoria and doing amazing, having this beautiful culture right here at our fingertips, why aren’t they involved in theater,” Kimler questioned. “And then it dawned on me, we’ve never provided representation. We’ve never told the community that they are welcomed in our community.”
He said, aside from wanting more than anything to put on a good show, it’s also providing representation and authenticity that’s the driving force behind his commitment.
Kimler said he wanted to direct this particular musical if it could be done the right way, meaning casting Hispanic people to portray and bring these Hispanic characters to life.
“No matter what boxes you check in life you should be able to tell your own story,” Kimler said. “You should be able to get on a stage and share art and beauty and tell the stories that need to be told.”
He’s asking those in the Hispanic community, of different shades and backgrounds, to come out for auditions to portray the faces telling many of their stories.
Julia Tejeda, 19, came out for auditions on the first weekend and said she’s grateful for the dedication to authenticity.
“In the Peoria area we don’t often get a ton of representation we try our best but it’s not always something that is at the forefront of the director’s mind all the time,” Tejeda said. “And so for that to be front and center this time is just exciting and really important.”
She said the musical tells a similar story to that of her parents and she brought out her dad, Balmes Tejeda, to audition with her.
“It [In the Heights] tells in a lot of ways my story, my parents were immigrants to Chicago and me and my sibling were sort of the first ones to go to college,” Balmes said. “I was the first one to go away to college in my family and it tells that same story of an immigrant parent and all the pressure that’s on his daughter to go away and succeed.”
The father and daughter duo said they’re excited at the chance to possibly share the stage together.
Kimler said the next round of auditions take place Friday and Saturday, Oct. 28 and 29 at Imago Dei Church at 2221 N Gale Ave. He said people can sign up on the Peoria Player’s Facebook page.
He said a premiere date for the musical is set for March 2023.