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Pippin’s Yuliana Garcia has lots more stories to tell and magic to do just for you


Yuliana Garcia is beyond excited to be playing the Leading Player in Pippin for the Alliance Youth Theatre. But as the soft-spoken senior describes her character, it becomes abundantly clear that she’s inside The Leading Player’s head.

“When I started, I loved singing and I loved dancing but didn’t really know why,” she says quietly, nestled in the corner of an orange couch in the main gallery at the Alliance for the Arts, still dressed in the red top coat and Steampunk hat she dons for the finale. “Over time, it’s dawned on me that what I really love is the storytelling – giving a voice to the characters.”

Yuli started theater when she was all of eight years old.

“When I was in 3rd grade, they handed out these little audition notices for the first musical my school was planning to do. I remember thinking ‘You should do this. You have to do this.’”

And she did.

When she entered middle school, kismet landed her in Carmen Crussard’s classroom.

“Carmen was the one who got me to start taking lessons and coming here [to the Alliance Youth Theatre]. I did my first show here when I was 12, and I’ve been in almost every season since then.”

Her recent credits include Gabriella in Boeing Boeing, Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Anna in Spring Awakening.

“It’s been a lot of work, a lot has happened, and there have been a lot of tears. But [Carmen] encouraged me to keep pursuing this. She’s never stopped believing in me, not once, and so here I am.”

An astute judge of talent, Crussard undoubtedly sensed that Yuliana had “parts to perform, hearts to warm, kings and things to take by storm.”

In other words, she had magic to do just for you.

Her first brush with the Stephen Schwartz cover that opens Pippin happened when Yuliana was still in 8th grade.

“We did ‘Magic to Do’ for our thespian competition, and I was Leading Player. So it’s funny that for years later, my dream of doing the entire show is being realized. And with Carmen’s company!”

But the jump from singing a single song to reprising the role turned out to be something of a quantum leap.

“I really struggled a lot to understand her,” Yuli confesses.

To explain her dilemma, she makes reference to the character of Esmeralda, who she portrayed in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

“Esmeralda came so easily to me because I feel very much like she does. She’s adventurous, caring, loving and kind. But while she tries her hardest, she’s emotional, and has all these insecurities. I readily connected with that.”

By contrast, The Leading Player has this commanding, frightful presence.

“I’m nothing like that in real life. Everything she does has a double meaning. There are lots of ways you can play Esmeralda. There are much fewer ways you can play The Leading Player correctly. And while I think I do finally understand her, this role has been a far greater challenge.”

At this point in our conversation, there’s a subtle, nearly imperceptible shift in the tonality of her references to The Leading Player. With the riddle of Leading Player’s personality finally solved, Yuliana begins to speak of her as if she were a real live person rather than a fictional character.

“Leading Player is very sweet and very smooth. She knows exactly what she’s doing as she’s doing it and is not worried about anything until the ending when, for the first time, she loses her grip on the show. But until then, she’s supremely confident, poised and restrained. She’s ultra sure of herself and what she’s going to do in the show within the show. She knows every cue, every line, every move that she’s going to make – and that’s going to be made by everyone else in the show.”

It’s an intriguing juxtaposition.

It’s not enough for Yuliana to know her lines, her songs, the dances and her blocking cold. The Leading Player has to project these identical attributes to Pippin, Catherine, Theo and the Players, as well.

“To put myself in Leading Player’s mindset, I relax with music. I drink a lot of water.”

She slows her breathing and her heartrate.

And suddenly, in the moments before the first strains of “Magic to Do” permeate the theater, she ceases to be Yuliana and becomes The Leading Player.

Don’t misunderstand. This isn’t a Heath Ledger/Joker situation. Yuliana doesn’t import Leading Player into her real life identity. But for the two-plus hours she’s on that stage, she is The Leading Player rather than merely playing the role.

It’s a necessary subterfuge; one that the high school and AYT senior understands intuitively.

“At the beginning, she’s smiling, gracious and charismatic. This helps inspire Pippin and the audience to like and trust her, and that sets up Pippin and audience for the shock, disappointment and betrayal they feel when she finally reveals her true intentions and tries to force Pippin [into the Grande Finale – setting himself on fire and thereby committing suicide].”

Playing The Leading Player properly not only requires Yuliana to know her character so well that she temporarily becomes one with her, she must also know Pippin and all that moves and motivates him.

“The way I see it, Pippin comes from a completely dysfunctional and unloving home life,” Yuliana sagely supplies. “She knows that and fills the void in his life by providing him with guidance and reassurance that he is extraordinary and will find fulfillment. No one has ever told him that before. And so he develops an attachment to her. He becomes dependent on her.”

But, of course, she has an ulterior motive, and the danger that portends is signified by the increasing amount of red that shows up in the costumes she wears.

“As the show progresses, The Leading Player’s costumes get more and more red while everyone else remains strictly in black and white. I start with a little red garter and by the end of the show I’m completely red. I think that’s representative of The Leading Player’s true colors showing.”

Her true colors flare, crackle and burn red hot when Pippin chooses a life with Catherine and Theo over self-immolation in the Grand Finale that Leading Player and her cohorts have planned for him.

“When Leading Player doesn’t get what she wants, she becomes unraveled, unhinged, like a little box you keep opening only to find an even smaller box inside.”

The transformation is not just remarkable. It’s memorable. She goes from zero to petulant in a nanosecond, taking away everyone’s costumes, make-up and music to punish Pippin for refusing to give the Players and the audience the denouement they’ve schemed and feel they deserve.

But where another actor might be content to simply give impetus to Leading Player’s unabashed tantrum, Yuliana brings nuance and understanding to the penultimate scene.

“She feels betrayed,” Yuliana astonishes. “She’s given Pippin all these opportunities for greatness and even though they didn’t work out, she thinks he’s being ungrateful when he won’t do the one thing she asks of him at the end.”

That may seem delusional from the outside, but her explanation has the benefit of logic within the context of their relationship as leader and follower, guide and adventurer. And this rationale gives further credence and credulity to her strident reaction to Pippin’s rejection of her overtures at the end of the play-within-the-play.

The maturity that Yuliana brings to the part can certainly be ascribed to excellent direction, the experience she’s gained in previous roles and her smart, introspective approach to character analysis.

But it also reflects the young actor’s knack for effective storytelling and her uncanny ability to become one with her character. And that also explains the apparent ease with which she handled the more sexual aspects of The Leading Player role.

“She grew a lot from Hunchback to this show in her ability to portray sensuality,” notes Lauren Perry, the Alliance Youth Theatre’s choreographer. “I noticed a huge growth. She was just on fire in the way she interacts with Pippin in the “Right Track” number. The way she pulls him in is just beautiful.”

Or stated differently, it’s yet another example of Juliana being the Leading Player, as opposed to playing a role.

It clear evidence of Juliana being inside The Leading Player’s head.

Her ability to portray Leading Player so convincingly should predispose Yuliana to win additional leads, and while that’s certainly important, she hopes it will also help her win admission into a collegiate BFA program in musical theater. The high school senior received her first college acceptance just the day before Pippin‘s second show. But to get into a musical theater program, she not only has to be accepted academically, she has to audition for admission to the musical theater program as well.

“I’d love to get into Florida State’s Music Theatre Program,” Yuli effuses. One of the nation’s top-ranked programs, FSU’s Music Theatre Program is a joint program offered through the College of Music and the School of Theatre. Highly competitive, the program prepares talented students from around the country for professional careers through a comprehensive curriculum of courses in theatre, music, and dance. In addition to course work, students have a variety of performance opportunities every year, including two musicals each season. Better still, graduating seniors in the Music Theatre program also have the opportunity to participate in the Senior Showcase each spring in New York City, an event that is attended by directors, talent agents, and casting directors from all over the United States.

If this were sports rather than musical theater, FSU would be recruiting Yuliana rather than requiring her to audition for a spot in their program.

Meanwhile, Yuliana continues to hone her skills. She takes voice and dance lessons twice a week. She focusing at the moment on jazz and tap. The latter is in preparation for a tap show that her high school will be doing in the spring.

And copping to a bit of nostalgia, she’s savoring the relationships she’s developed over the course of her embryonic career.

“It’s not just a coincidence that you get close to your cast mates or that they become family. That’s what art does. I need it. My friends need. People need more art in the world today. And that’s a big reason I want to keep doing this and go on to do it professionally.”

With Thanksgiving approaching, Yuliana is in full self-assessment mode.

“I’m thankful for all the amazing people in my life.”

She pays particular homage to her parents, who immigrated to the United States from Columbia the year before Yuliana was born.

“They have given everything to provide me with the opportunities I’ve enjoyed. They’re citizens now and have sacrificed so much to give me the voice and dance lessons and get me to rehearsals and shows. It’s not cheap, but somehow they’ve made it work.”

She acknowledges a huge debt of gratitude to Carmen Crussard, choreographer Lauren Perry and all of the Alliance Youth Theatre creative team.

And then there’s her friends.

“I have the most amazing group of friends you could ask for. So talented, humble and kind. I’m so grateful for them.”

And they’re no doubt grateful for her.

We’ve yet to see the best of Yuliana Garcia.

There are “parts to perform, hearts to warm, kings and things to take by storm.”

In other words, she has lots more characters to give voice to and magic to do just for you.

November 21, 2019.



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