Media courtesy Givi Garcia
He’s No Streetlight
UA Alum Givi Garcia reprises role as Usnavi in In the Heights, only one accomplishment since graduation.
by Hallie Underwood, ’20.
For UA Alum Givi Garcia, the high school musicals he spent hours at a time working on in the auditorium are beginning to be a blur. “There are only good memories when I try to recall it in my mind,” Garcia said. “I just remember laughing a lot, and that speaks for itself.”
Garcia admits without walking into room 181 his freshman year, his life would be much different. “I owe a major debt to the vocal music program at UAHS. Specifically to Eric Kauffman,” Garcia said. “Had I not walked through room 181, I can assure you I wouldn’t have the confidence I needed to get where I am today. My freshman year, I met him and had a guttural feeling how he would be in my life in some way. He saw my potential and he cultivated a very open environment in his music program.” Experience in Freshmen choir brought Garcia to audition for Vocal Ensemble.
A member of Ensemble, Symphonic Choir and Men’s Glee and Chorus for the next three years, Garcia held leadership positions as Dance Captain and Section Leader as well as roles in the program’s annual musicals.
Perhaps the announcement the program would be performing Lin Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights held the most special place in his heart. “The was no way I wasn’t going to [audition],” Gracia said.” I had never heard anything like it. I also wanted to prove to myself that I could do anything I set my mind to.”
Difficulties in Upper Arlington
Outside of the Vocal Music program, though, Upper Arlington presented many difficulties. Although grateful for the educational opportunities, the lack of diversity pressured Garcia to look and act one way. Garcia grew up in Upper Arlington his entire life, and saw “an apparent lack of diversity and lack of understanding of different cultures in the student body in the school district”.
Being part of the around 12 percent of students coming from mixed racial backgrounds, Garcia felt his identity was compromised. “It made being raised Latin American West European feel like I was less than, especially since I did not come from the most privileged of backgrounds,” Garcia said. “In the halls of Greensview Elementary, Jones Middle School, and Upper Arlington High School I was presumptuously misidentified often. You wouldn’t believe how often people assumed I was Mexican.”
Additionally, Garcia felt embarrassed for not meeting the “glorified lax bro, jeep, old money vibe” he saw at Upper Arlington, despite coming from a household with a normal financial standing. “I’m not sure whether it is the demographic, or because of the high school’s student life, but it created an environment that made me feel pressured in economic and societal/cultural ways,” Garcia said. “It is a community deeply rooted in the surface value of money.”
Being gay in Upper Arlington made it hard for Garcia to even think about coming out. Garcia recounts being bullied, called ‘fag’ and blatantly asked if he was homosexual during his freshman year at UAHS. “Looking back, I regret never coming out in high school. I would have had so many more meaningful memories if I had lived my authentic life. It didn’t matter at all, and it didn’t completely define who I was at the time. I did not feel supported in my community, so, therefore, how could I come out?” Garcia said.
“What people don’t understand about kids in the closet is that it is traumatizing and shameful when you target them. That is a time they never get back to grow up and just be a normal kid with feelings, natural urges, and desires. Experiencing homophobia in the closet at a young age is so tragic because it can really shape our social skills and affects our mental health severely.”
All So Nostalgic and Sexy
Despite not being able to display his true self at school, the arts have been a part of Garcia’s life for as long as he can remember and created an outlet for him to meet his true self.
“My first love was music, it’s all I can immediately point back to. I would know every single song on the radio back in the early 2000s and late ’90s when radio was still relevant,” Garcia said. “…My parents had always been a little more hip than most parents, so they let us listen to whatever we wanted growing up, they didn’t care. Britney Spears, Green Day, 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, Beyoncé, Lauryn Hill, Amy Winehouse, Jeff Buckley, OutKast, Gaga. Yet my parents also kept the music from their youth playing in our house. The King of Pop, Whitney Houston, Madonna, Prince, Duran Duran, 80s and 90s music. Anything you can dance to.”
Garcia’s parents made sure not to censor Garcia or his silblings’ creativity and talent. This led to a celebration of music from a plethora of genres and artists.
With the constant new wave of music on the radio and music from Garcia’s parent’s generation constantly turning in his mind, Garcia knows firmly that his grandfather was his biggest influence. He would often be playing anything from classical musical theatre like Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music to music of the 30s to 60s, like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin and Elvis.
“He’s my biggest inspiration because he was a good person and saw the beauty in everything,” Garcia said. “He looked at things from a higher intellect, was classy, and was never crude … he was a beautifully sensitive person who really wanted to live his dreams but settled for comfort. He was the first person who made me realize that it’s okay to follow your artistic bliss.”
For the Garcia’s, a common past time was to go to AMC or Blockbuster and watch movies together, which further influenced Garcia’s love for pop culture and the arts.
Being exposed from anything from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Titanic to The Silence of the Lambs defined Garcia’s idea of creativity in movies. “I am have always loved the experience of going to the theatre to watch a film. The popcorn, the seats, the soda. It’s all just so nostalgic and sexy,” Garcia said.
When Garcia’s grandfather passed due to a compromised immune system, Parkinson’s and Dementia, Garcia knew it would make him proud to go out and achieve his dreams for the both of them. Honoring him and his parents, he left Upper Arlington and made them a reality.
College Isn’t for Everyone
The first place Garcia looked in hopes to achieve stardom was the path many high school students look to. Auditioning for nine competitive university theatre programs, Garcia instantly saw he had a lack of preparation when applying. “I didn’t get into any of the programs for theatre, which I think has everything to do with the fact that I didn’t know how to market myself by my type or look. I didn’t know the material well enough. What monologues to chose that showed range and acting capabilities. What songs to sing that were age appropriate and easier for accompanists at auditions to play,” Garcia said. “These are all very small yet major details that people spend years preparing for, and something I had zero guidance, outside of my voice teacher, to prepare for.”
With the plan to go to Baldwin Wallace with an undecided major and a plan to attempt to get into the theatre program, Garcia received an invitation to audition for CAP21, or Collaborative Arts Project 21, in New York City. The program is a two-year professional musical theatre conservatory specializing in singing, acting and dancing. Squeezing classes six days a week in ballet to audition technique and up to 12-hour rehearsals into each week, Garcia grew as a person and performer.
Garcia, right, poses with a mentor upon’
graduating from CAP21 in New York City.
Photo courtesy CAP21 Conservatory
“It’s an altogether impossible experience to describe,” Garcia said. “… everyone should know it’s some of the hardest work you can ever put your body and mind through.”
The first professional theatre company Garcia performed with, though, was closer to home. “Short North Stage is the root of my Columbus life as an adult. I have a lot of great friends from my time there and it was my first professional gig, so I owe a great deal to the creative team there for believing in me,” Garcia said. “I turn into another person when those lights come on. I live for performing and entertaining. Each show comes and goes in a flash, but I recollect everything by vague memories of tear-induced laughter.”
The intensity of CAP21 prepared Garcia for the typical schedule at Short North Stage. “When I did Dreamgirls fall of 2017 it was 6 shows a week, which was easier than anticipated because my track was dance heavy, not even remotely vocally demanding,” Garcia said. “Warming up your body to dance is much simpler depending on the athleticism of the steps, rather than having to conserve your vocal energy over the course of a weeks shows with a vocally demanding track, in my opinion.”
Hair, Garcia’s proudest work, was much more vocally demanding, leaving Garcia completely vocally, emotionally and physically drained by the end of the Thursday through Sunday routine. “Running around and whipping my head on the stage was such a blast, but you don’t realize how hard you go after the adrenaline from an electric show has left your body. It taught me to lay on/off the gas when I needed to. Hair is my work I’m proudest of, to this day.”
Garcia performs in the cast of Hair at
Short North Stage in Columbus, Ohio.
Photo courtesy Givi Garcia
The City that Never Sleeps
For four and a half years, Garcia has lived in New York City. Moving there was a great leap, though, as he had only been to New York City once with the biannual Vocal Music trip. “I was happy to just be in the energy of New York City,” Garcia said. “There really is no place like it. I was ready to shed my skin.”
Being in such a big place came with excitement and nervousness, however. Garcia’s still closeted sexuality continued to cause uneasiness when going to New York. “I was so nervous on my first day of school that on the way down on the subway I nearly threw up and had a panic attack. I was so nervous about what everyone would think of me and didn’t know how I was going to address my sexual orientation at the point in my life.”
New York brought speed to Garcia’s life, allowing him to grow up and be more independent. “If you don’t learn how to survive here and aren’t comfortable with living a bohemian lifestyle…” Garcia said. “I’ve been as low as eating ramen noodles, and I’m finally meeting financial goals outside of my acting career to stay afloat. I do not have the privilege that a large number of actors in this community do, but I know when I reach a major feat in my career, it will make all that hard work so worth it. It already is worth it because I am happier than ever.”
Ode to Usnavi
Since high school, some may say Garcia’s life has done a complete 180. Living between skyscrapers in New York City, happily dating and comfortable with his sexuality, and pursuing the arts unapologetically just like he’d always wanted. There are a few constants, though, and one is Usnavi.
“Usnavi was ultimately the character that really flows through my veins,” Garcia said. “I knew I could deliver rap lyrics pretty fiercely after years of learning whatever was popular on the radio at the time. I knew if I had the opportunity to play any of those roles [in In the Heights], I would do it in a heartbeat and give it my all.”
Garcia has auditioned for the role of Usnavi nearly twenty-five times in New York and across the country. When a friend of a friend sent two videos of Garcia to Dr. Janet Speer in summer 2018, Garcia was offered the role of Usnavi again in Banner Elk, North Carolina practically on the spot. In the Heights would be his third professional gig.
As working in regional performances was popular for college students in the summer, Garcia met many actors close to his age. “My second experience with In the Heights was a little different than your typical professional schedule,” Garcia said. “The production company I performed under only put on about 6 performances after a three and a half week rehearsal schedule. Doing a week of shows after incubating a show is always a breeze compared to 4 weeks of rehearsal and four to six shows a week, rather than eight.”
Banner Creek’s performance of In the Heights closed in August, wrapping up yet another show for Garcia. Perhaps one day, Garcia will look back at Banner Creek only remembering the tearful laughter and leaving it all on the stage. For now, though, he’s in the big city, off to another audition.