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This post was written by Sophia Kuriakose, Class of 2021.

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On a Friday night in 2013, my sister took me — a bright-eyed little girl with a sense of wonder — to the Ovation Theatre production of Barnum. When the captivating show came to the finale, ensemble members lined the aisles of the auditorium. Suddenly out of thin air, confetti came flying towards the audience, taking my imagination into a new world as the story came to life. I instantly knew I wanted to be a part of this. That decision, almost seven years ago, radically changed my high school career and the rest of my life.

Ovation has been a large part of my life since my freshman year. Each production brought new challenges and excitements, and additionally, allowed me to meet and work with extremely talented people. But In The Heights was drastically different than anything I had been a part of; I was given the opportunity to take the stage as Nina Rosario, one of the leads in this production.

As soon as I got the part, I was overjoyed — but almost instantaneously overcome by anxiety and fear. How was Nina going to come to life through me? Getting a lead had been a dream of mine for all my high school career, but now that it had become a reality, I questioned how I was actually going to pull this off. I was in constant worry of ruining the production for the rest of the company. I was insecure; performing and singing have always come easy to me, but playing Nina extended a frightening challenge because of a lack of familiarity and comfort in acting. I doubted my abilities, and I even questioned why the director would pick me for such an important role.

As rehearsals went by, this fear continued to grow, and people around me noticed something was wrong. When it became evident that I wasn’t being myself, cast members began checking up on me. I was overwhelmed with immense support and love as each person I talked to genuinely believed in me and my potential to make this show something bigger than myself. This began to change my mindset about the musical, impacting the way I said each line and sang each phrase. I started to act with purpose.

Playing Nina Rosario forced me to become a stronger, more disciplined, and well-rounded performer. Each rehearsal, I was pushed to go beyond my comfort zone by portraying an honest, emotional character. As time went by, I was able to connect with Nina more and more, as we are very similar; she, too, is a bright, kind, and hopeful student, and we also share the same fear of disappointing those around us.

Nina taught me to be a more confident actress and helped me recognize the love and family around me that I was taking for granted. I was reminded once again on closing night when singing the show’s finale of the love present on this stage that cannot be recreated anywhere else. I knew I was saying goodbye to Nina and her story and goodbye to this group of people.

We came back Monday morning to see the neighborhood of Washington Heights dismantled. After a fresh layer of paint, the stage was transformed for our next endeavor. I stood on the stage in tears thinking of how much I’d grown and changed in the last two months. How could everything we had worked for disappear in a matter of hours? The people I call family reminded me of what made this experience so special. It was time to move on, and though the show is now behind us, the home we have built together stands tall. Everything we worked for is still on that stage.

Sometimes, you need others to believe in you before you can: how lucky am I to have that be my reality these past few months? Even with the fear of disappointment, Ovation has never failed to make me feel at home. They pick me up and bring me back to a place of confidence and trust in the hard work we put into this musical. They have revealed to me a love greater than blood and friends closer than family. They will be there for me when it feels like everyone else has turned away.

I hope some little girl saw In the Heights with bright eyes and a sense of wonder like I did so many years ago on that night at Barnum. I hope she can see her brothers and sisters in the aisles like I did. I hope that she may one day say, like I did, that she has found her way home.

Ovation Students