In the Square

I saw the preview of In the Heights by Porchlight Music Theatre.

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This was a smart choice from a marketing perspective. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s name is big right now and with the hype leading up to Hamilton in Chicago, the timing for putting on this show is spot on.

A lot of the buzz around this production has been accusations of white-washing the show. This is a complicated issue of justice to the show and to actors of color.

The most compelling argument is that Porchlight is located right on the border between the neighborhoods of Logan Square and Hermosa, which are feeling the effects of gentrification. The creative team behind the show should have shown sensitivity to including people of color in the direction of the show with such presence of the people of color being pushed out of the neighborhood right before their eyes in real life as in the story.

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Logan Square seems out of control in how quickly the neighborhood is changing. Young, white “hipsters” invade, and much like In the Heights, established local businesses are getting pushed out.

Personally, I feel kind of weird and complicated about Logan Square. I lived there for a year, 2014-2015. A lot of the change was taking effect and a lot has changed even since then.

One of the most interesting stories is of the Mega Mall. It was  completely empty building, now taken over by artists, before it turns into condos. The photos are staggering. Art has really taken over. But the building is caught between the past and future.

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What will happen next? Will residents ultimately get pushed out due to rent increases? Chicago audiences are attentive to these changes in the city and therefore, these theatrical themes. It seems as if Porchlight could have better captured the essence of the work by including a bit of a broader range of perspectives in the artistic leadership and casting for this show in particular.


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Now, I’d like to propose a lesson plan using the song 96,000 from In the Heights.

I’ve adapted this activity that I did with an extremely unparticipatory classroom around MLK Day and it was a great success! There were three categories that students wrote ideas or “dreams” about on post-it notes. 1. A dream for yourself 2. A dream for your neighborhood (or school) 3. How would you want MLK Day celebrated. Once finished, students would anonymously put the dreams on the board in the front. I then solicited student volunteers to pick out three from each category.

We all discussed what steps go in to making the selected dreams a reality. Examples:

  • To become a pro-football player involves completing high school and training extra hard and staying after practice.
  • To have better facilities at school might involve students writing a proposal to the school board, creating a design and raising funds.
  • To have a celebratory parade might involve contacting city government to close off the parade route and getting participants to create floats and acts.

Students brainstormed ways to achieve the anonymous goals with each other and thus, validated the ideas by offering concrete steps to realizing them.

“Yo, I’m just sayin’
It’s silly when we get into these crazy hypotheticals
You really want some bread then go ahead create a set of goals
And cross them off the list as you pursue ‘em
And with those ninety-six I know precisely what I’m doin”

Goal setting is an important life skill. The song 96,000 not only explores how lottery money could help achieve individual and community goals, but also offers some proposals rooted in financials skills and addressing social issues.

Students should start by comparing the different characters responses to “what they would do with $96,000.”

Characters in order of the piece area:

  • Benny -wants to invest, go to business school, and become a tycoon
  • Usnavi -wants to pay his debts and invest in the people in his life
  • Daniela and Carla, the girls from the shop -want to upgrade their status with beauty products and a new car
  • Sonny -determined to improve the neighborhood, buy computers, protest against racial bias and defend neighborhood
  • Vanessa -just wants to get out of the neighborhood into her own space downtown

Now, listen to how the music emphasizes their dreams. Benny’s music is cocky and optimistic. Sonny’s music is angry and determined, but then he pushes it off to be casual to impress Vanessa. Vanessa’s music is dreamy, yet slightly scared. Students can identify these moods and then determine how they fit, or don’t fit with the words.

Now, students should think about their post-it notes and the examples in the song to create a goal map.

Depending on the grade level, students can write out the goal or draw a pictoral representation or both!

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This will give them something to reflect on throughout the year. They can keep them or be posted in the room.


As an added layer, I made a neighborhood map of Logan Square that could act as a frame to my goal map. It’s evident in the song that the people around you and the neighborhood are a part of you and effected by your actions.

I thought that having the context of the transparent neighborhood frame situated my goals in external supports. But at the same time, it seems to box them in. Like Vanessa, I don’t want my goals boxed in to a location. I left the bottom corner for the goals to have a way to peak out into a larger world.

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