Creator and star of In the Heights Lin-Manuel Miranda talks to Plogger Hans Nielsen about his play, being a teenager and growing up in New York.
Hans Nielsen: Do you play yourself in In the Heights?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: No. I play a guy named Usnavi; he owns the corner bodega. The fun of writing a show is when you´re writing, you get to play every characte. So I am Abuela, I am Nina, I am Vanessa, I am Usnavi, I get to be Benny. These are all people who are way smarter and wittier than me on my best day. The only thing that I really have in common with Usnavi is that he gets really tongue-tied around girls, and so do I.
Hans: How does In the Heights inspire you?
Lin-Manuel: It inspires me every day! I´m lucky enough to be onstage with the best cast on Broadway. They make my job very easy because they´re so good. Everything feels bounded in reality. Do you do theatre?
Hans: Yeah, I´m a part of the MCC Youth Company.
Lin-Manuel: That´s awesome. You know how in high school theatre, you always stand in a circle and hold hands before a performance? We still do it every night before the show. We all get down in a circle and make sure that we´re all on the same page. Some of us may be tired, some of us may be busted or in a bad mood, but we´re all connected, and I think that energy shows onstage and I think that´s one of the things that sets us apart.
Hans: What is a community to you?
Lin-Manuel: I think that´s one of the questions that In The Heights explores: What is a community? and, What is home? Growing up, I didn´t feel like I belonged to any community. My parents were born in Puerto Rico, I grew up here. I was sent to Puerto Rico every summer to stay with my grandparents. I went to this very fancy school—it was a public school, but you had to take a bunch of tests to get in. It was on the Upper East Side, the richest ZIP code in the country. So I was very much the rich kid in my neighborhood, but I was the one of the only Puerto Ricans at my high school and at my elementary school. And then I would get sent to Puerto Rico every summer where I was the gringo and I spoke Spanish with an accent.
I think if you talk to a lot of writers, they have this feeling of being an outsider observing these worlds. I was straddling these three worlds and trying to figure out who I am in the midst of all of that.
Lin-Manuel: I think those experiences really led to the to creation of this show. The irony in that being that someone who never felt like they were completely part of a community has been able to create a community for myself up onstage, I get to be in it every night.
It´s literally a dream I had: I made up a guy named Usnavi, and now there´s a huge bodega set here.
Lin-Manuel: I never forget how crazy that is.
Hans:Who is your favorite character?
Lin-Manuel: It’s impossible. I love them all for different reasons. One of the things that I love about our show is that there are no bad guys.
Hans: What advice would you give young people interested in theatre?
Lin-Manuel: Write. Write everything you think of. Write what you haven't seen. That's the only way we create more parts, and that's the only way we create more opportunities for ourselves. If you write you are creating a new reality. So everybody write.
Hans: I wrote a play myself this summer.
Lin-Manuel: That’s excellent.
Hans: What advice would you give to an actor?
Lin-Manuel: I would say soak up everything you can. Soak up all of it. I worked on some of the craziest plays you ever saw in your life. Couldn’t be more different than In the Heights. Soak up everything you can. You learn just as much from shows you hate as shows you love.
Wnat to read more from LIn-Manuel and Hans? Go Here.