Roy Bronkema has always had an interest in working with the international community.
It’s what attracted him to Notre Dame International, where he serves as an assistant director for International Students and Scholar Affairs (ISSA).
His team supports international student and scholars by assisting them in managing their visa status and working to enhance cultural understanding on campus.
“It’s very diverse and I meet a lot of different people from all over the world,” he said.
While Bronkema enjoys working with the international community by day, he’s also found himself in a similar role at night.
“My passion has always been the theater,” said Bronkema. “I’ve been involved in theater and musicals and directing music groups and orchestras and writing music for most of my life.”
For the first time in his career, he was able to combine his passion for the international community with his love of the theater.
“In the Heights” focuses around the story of the vibrant Latin American community in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood. The community is on the brink of change and characters have to decide which traditions stay and which ones to leave behind.
The lead character, Usnavi, was played by Notre Dame sophomore Jorge Rivera-Herrans. The theater and economics major from Puerto Rico said he related to many topics in the show.
“Many of the themes in this musical are so relevant now, including the underrepresentation of the Latin community,” said Rivera-Herrans. “This is great because it demonstrates all the struggles that they have to go through and how much they maintain their spirit throughout life.”
It’s a spirit that Rivera-Herrans maintained throughout the performance, as he worked to bring more awareness to issues surrounding Latino communities.
“In the show, despite the constant struggles they go through, they always maintain their heart and happiness,” he said. “I think it’s a great model to have.”
Cultural representation in this musical production was important for Civic Executive Director Aaron Nichols. He said the Civic started a steering committee a year in advance to ensure that the cast was diverse and represented the stories told within the production.
The Civic went into the Michiana community and partnered with La Casa de Amistad to recruit not only actors, but also a group of staff members to work behind the scenes.
“We have the word ‘civic’ in our title and I think that’s a mandate to reflect the community we have,” said Nichols. “This is just the beginning and we hope that every show here at South Bend Civic can be as much of a reflection of our community as this is.”
Music played a key role in representing the Latino community as well. As the music director, Bronkema relied on his experience working and connecting with various groups within the international community.
He believes the story was interpreted and produced in a way that would have made Lin-Manuel Miranda proud.
“We have a phenomenal cast and they have incredible chemistry,” said Bronkema. “It’s been a joy to intersect my job during the day and my job at night working with international students and the international community.”
The performance of “In the Heights” ran from March 14-25. Check the South Bend Civic Theater’s website for upcoming performances.
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