By Jeilianne Vazquez
“We need to help students and parents cherish and preserve the ethnic and cultural diversity that nourishes and strengthens this community–and this nation.” –César Chávez
Today is the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month, a month honoring and celebrating Hispanic/Latino cultural and historical impact. We end this month’s celebration by getting to know BA Theatre major Nickolas Gonzalez and BA Theatre and Dance major Brianna Gutierrez. GTA audiences may remember Nicko from last year’s GTA New Play Festival, in the short plays Sex Eyes (Daniel), Little Bonnie Blue-Bell (Benny Harper), and Asking for a Friend (Ryan). Audiences will remember Brianna from New Play Festival shorts Sex Eyes (Jailine), The Séance Respond Squad (Sasha), The Cryptic Case of Howard Hart (Mrs. Hart), as well as 2019’s Pippin, and most recently Living Out (Sandra).
What is your current major? What do you hope to do after graduation?
Nicko: I am currently majoring in BA Theatre. My hope after I graduate is to work with theatre in some aspect. I have always had a dream of working professionally whether that is National Tours, Off-Broadway or Broadway but recently I have delivered a new dream. I want to teach theatre to students. I was inspired by my old high school theatre teacher that theatre is more than the recognition or the applause for less than a minute. Theatre changes life and has changed mine for the better. My goal in life is to spread the power of theatre.
Brianna: I am currently a double major pursuing my BA in Dance and Theater. After school, I plan on working on cruise lines, then a few national tours, and then head to Broadway to either choreograph and or be a part of some amazing ensembles.
What does being Hispanic/Latino mean to you?
Nicko: Being Puerto Rican and Cuban gives me a sense of purpose and understanding who I am.
Brianna: For me, being Afro-Latina is very important to me. I lived with my grandparents for a while in some beautiful Latin American countries that are my home and neglect the fact that my family is Latina/o just because of the darkness of my skin is something I did for a long time but do not anymore because I am proud of where I come from and always will be.
How has your family and their culture impacted you? Any unique family traditions?
Nicko: I always love hearing new stories from my parents and other relatives on how I got here. The stories never get old! I think the way we live our everyday lives is so different from everyone else. Simple things like greeting everyone in the room with a kiss and making sure the people we care about are okay. Also my family is extremely close. Sometimes a little too close and I’m like, okay now let’s wait a minute. But I also love it at the same time. Some traditions my family conducts are getting together for the holidays, calling each other close to everyday and sleeping in the same room on Christmas Eve. There are so many more!
Brianna: I think it has really shaped my determination, work ethic, and my music taste as a performer and choreographer. I feel as though my family was not always blessed to not have to struggle. I grew up watching my grandparents work hard, my parents work even harder, and I feel as though within my industry I have to work even harder than my white counterparts because they can be seen playing any role while I am put into a box that I have to fight to escape.
How do you celebrate Hispanic Heritage month? What does it mean to you?
Nicko: In a month like this I think about my grandparents coming to this country to give my parents a better life. My parents spend their lives making my life better and the kindness continues for generations. I spend this time reflecting and celebrating who I am.
Brianna: For me, I enjoy learning more about my own culture but also other countries’ cultures. My family is only from 2 out of so many Latin American countries so this month is a time to reflect, learn, and embrace others and myself. I honestly am glad we have the month because I learn something new every year but I truly wish that we were allowed to be proud of our culture everyday and that it may not define who we are as individual people but our community and traditions overall.
How does your family feel about theatre?
Nicko: When I first joined the theatre my family was okay. I have two brothers and ever since they were born have always had a ball in their hands. So my parents thought I would be the same, but (hehe) no. I really enjoy watching the people I care about play sports. I can be a strong fan but nothing else. My first show was Footloose and I played the Reverend (Father of Ariel). After the performance my mom was hollering because my dad and two brothers were crying during scenes. After I heard that I was like, wow. That’s the moment they knew I had a passion for theatre.
Brianna: My family is supportive but I promise it was not always like that. It took a lot of convincing before seeing that I could do this long term. After seeing me in Pippin my freshman year, I will never forget my mom just holding me and saying “I see it now.” She has never wanted me to struggle or have to work hard for things in life but after seeing how much work I have put in to be here and that the passion and love I have for theater is unmatched my whole family came around. I am so excited because for 9 to 5 my grandmother is flying in from Belize to see me perform in a musical for the first time and I am very excited. I lost my grandfather a few months ago and he never got to see me perform and so having her here is just something I hope can make them proud.
What do you love about theatre?
Nicko: I was so lost on what to do in the world but theatre gave me a purpose. I love the way theatre brings people together. Theatre has a goal, but while working towards it you develop new skills, learn new things and form memories to last you forever. At the end you broadcast your hard work to an audience. That audience can be impacted by that production for the rest of their lives. Theatre changes lives and tells stories that need to be told.
Brianna: I love getting to show that if I can do it, you can too. I grew up seeing people like Debbie Allen, Ariana Debose, and so many more women of color get their chance to shine on Broadway. I feel like I want to be that for some little girl. Theater has helped me get through some really dark times but to get here I have had to work super hard. Unfortunately, being a woman of color has worked against me more times than not but my talent and work ethic gets me in the door. Which I want to show, that us women of color can create a seat at the table. Even though we may be consistently uninvited we can for sure show that our work ethic and drive is unmatched. We can change hearts, tell stories, and change the world if we want to through theater.
What is something you want people to know about you?
Nicko: At this moment in my life I am allowing myself to be a student and trying not to plan my future. I have overwhelmed myself in the past trying to determine every moment of my life. Now I am going to allow myself to be a student and become a better artist.
Brianna:I want people to know that being black does not mean that we as individuals are just that. There are many of us with different cultural backgrounds and I encourage those who do not know to look into it. I am grateful that my family has a lot of records to trace back my lineage but I think knowing the truth in where you come from only makes you want to live life to the fullest and embrace the culture, the traditions, and the loves that others might have been discriminated against and/or beaten for.
Five years from now, where do you hope to be?
Nicko: In 5 years I hope to have graduated from Brenau with a BA in Theatre and hopefully working at a school teaching.
Brianna: Not in Georgia. I am just kidding, I honestly want to be working on a Broadway National Tour and be looking to move to NYC. I want to take the next 3 to 5 years to travel while performing because I have not gotten to explore the world in awhile and I just want to do what I love while getting to explore and navigate through different cities and countries.