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Soaring to New 'Heights'

Soaring to New 'Heights'Actor Joel Perez gets his big break with a musical about his Latino heritage.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [09.16.10] While many actors say they were born for the stage, Joel Perez (A'08) says he fell into performing by accident.

"I always thought I would be a doctor," Perez admits. "But as a freshman pre-med student, I was finding my science and math classes incredibly frustrating, and I needed a creative outlet."

After snagging a lead role in Torn Ticket II's production of "Children of Eden" the second semester of his freshman year, Perez says he found himself faced with a whole new world of opportunity.

"When I started enjoying rehearsal more than doing my chemistry problem sets, I realized I need to shift gears," he says.

He switched his major to drama and spent his junior year studying at the British American Drama Academy in London. Now Perez is touring the world as part of the ensemble cast and understudy to the lead role of Unsavi in the Tony Award-winning musical "In the Heights." Set in Manhattan's predominantly Latino Washington Heights neighborhood, the show opened in Tokyo in August and moves to Seattle September 28. Closer to home, the production comes to Providence, R.I., in January 2011.

After graduation, Perez went back home to Lawrence, Mass., and did commercial, film and theater work around Boston before moving to New York as part of an acting fellowship with the Williamstown Theater Festival in the Berkshires.

"After that, I then found myself in New York doing the stereotypical waiting tables and auditioning things for awhile until I booked ‘In the Heights,' " he says.

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Joel Perez in Tokyo

The musical examines issues of family, community and the idea of finding where you belong.

"Its messages transcend race and culture," Perez says."In a country like the U.S., which has so many immigrants, audiences everywhere have something to relate to."

Because he is of Puerto Rican descent, Perez says performing in "In the Heights" has meant that much more to him.

"My culture has always been a big part of my life. I am very proud to be Puerto Rican, and this show is a vehicle to tell my story," he says. "I first saw ‘In the Heights' in 2008, just before it won the Tony Award for best musical, and I remember being so happy that there was finally a show on Broadway that told my story.

"Being a part of it now is just a dream come true."

Perez acknowledges the gift that his time at the university gave him.

"Tufts encouraged me to take risks and express myself, and I feel my education makes me smarter than your average actor, and I think people in the industry respect that," he says. "Also thanks to my involvement with the Latino Center and the Association of Latin American Students, I was able to realize the importance of being an activist and raising awareness about the Latino community, which I believe is exactly what 'In the Heights' does."

Story by Kaitlin Provencher, Web Communications.

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