Teacher inspires students to reach for new ‘Heights’

Teacher Antonio Mercado has had a fruitful relationship with Denver's North High School, from premièring his play 'Dreaming sin Fronteras,' about immigrants who were children when they came to the United States illegally, to helping with a recent production of Lin-Manuel Miranda's 'In the Heights.'

Courtesy of Sarah Skeen
Students rehearse at Denver's North High School

Sixteen-year-old Alan Joseph Sanchez-Gonzales had been to see live theater only once before his first audition. That audition earned him the lead in a production of “In the Heights” staged with the help of an actor-director-teacher who uses art to get young people to aim high.

That teacher, Antonio Mercado, had little theater experience himself before falling in love with acting in high school. He went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts from the University of California, Los Angeles. As a drama teacher at Denver’s North High School in 2004, he directed “Zoot Suit,” which is set in the Mexican-American community of L.A. in the 1940s. His sparkling cast was asked to perform at Denver’s arts center, a place few had visited even as audience members.

Mr. Mercado, who says theater teaches “collaboration, self-esteem and commitment,” is as proud of a former student who produces movies as of another who is a nurse. He left North but maintained a relationship. 

In 2014, North hosted the première of his play “Dreaming sin Fronteras,” which tells the stories of immigrants who were children when they came to the United States illegally. As a high school teacher, Mercado had seen such students struggle because they, like his father, had come from Mexico without papers. Then North asked for Mercado’s help with a February production of “In the Heights,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical about young Hispanics in New York pursuing their dreams.  

Mercado brought in friends with professional experience as designers and as rap and hip-hop coaches. He also raised $10,000 in donations. He had appeared in plays written by Quiara Alegría Hudes, who also wrote the “Heights” book, and he persuaded her to give the cast notes via Skype. The students from North and a charter school that shares the campus serenaded Ms. Hudes with “Heights” songs when she appeared on the computer screen.

“ ‘In the Heights’ is about joy and love,” Hudes said. “You have to talk about the love. You have to be very honest, too.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Teacher inspires students to reach for new ‘Heights’
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Arts/2017/0228/Teacher-inspires-students-to-reach-for-new-Heights
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe