This is part of a season preview package.
When Ricardo Aponte’s family relocated from Barquisimeto, Venezuela, to Atlanta, he didn’t know any English. It was 1997, and it was his freshman year of high school, and though his father had worked in pharmaceutical sales, their home country was so unstable that they had to leave everything behind. One thing the move couldn’t take away from Aponte, though: dance. Aponte’s aunt owned a ballet studio in Venezuela, where he had danced almost daily since he was young. He first discovered musical theatre from a school production of Oklahoma!
After high school in the U.S., he went to Georgia’s Kennesaw State University, and though he majored in psychology, dance was never far away. He took as many dance electives as possible, picking up skills in lyrical, tap, hip-hop, and more. He had the opportunity to assist a choreographer who worked on industrials for major corporations. After that choreographer left Atlanta for a cruise ship contract, Aponte took over his clientele. At the same time, he found his way back to musical theatre.
His first professional theatre job was Guys and Dolls in 2006 at Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville, Ga., and he hasn’t stopped working since. He directed a range of shows over the last decade in the Atlanta market, including Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Dreamgirls at Atlanta Lyric Theatre, Newsies and In the Heights at Aurora, and his favorite musical, Once on This Island, at Georgia Ensemble Theatre.
He was booked and busy leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic in the winer of of 2019/2020, directing and choreographing Into the Woods at the University of Georgia in Athens and choreographing Indecent at Theatrical Outfit in Atlanta. The drive between rehearsals: 120 miles roundtrip.
“It was the craziest winter of my life,” Aponte said. “When everything stopped, it was like pressing the brakes.”
In the absence of bouncing from gig to gig, Aponte decided to fulfill a dream of going back to school. He’d briefly worked at CNN as a floor director for Café CNN, a Spanish-language morning show, and his interest in production never waned. Now he’s studying film and media at Georgia State University.
In addition to school, Aponte also turned his attention to giving back. In 2019, he’d applied for a 501(c)3 for a nonprofit called Theatre Platform Project, but was too busy to do anything with it. The pandemic shutdown gave him a fresh opportunity to revisit the project. He developed two programs, one called Dance from Your Living Room, for which he recorded 30-minute dance classes for senior citizens, as well a dance program for special-needs adults. He said he also wants to offer inclusive arts programs through the nonprofit, in hopes of diversifying musical theatre.
“Most musicals are written from a white perspective because most musical theatre writers are white,” Aponte said. “In West Side Story, their version of a Puerto Rican lens is an amalgamation of Latino culture, even though it’s not the Nuyorican lifestyle, because it’s not written by a person who lived it. Because the musicals have been written by white people, the leads go to them.”
He added that the Black Lives Matter movement, and related activism in the performing arts, have only demonstrated the crucial importance of challenging that predominant whiteness.
“Diversity is huge,” Aponte said. “I know it’s not going to change this season or next season, but what’s going to change is when BIPOC writers get their work on bigger platforms and are able to give BIPOC actors opportunities to play those roles.”
As live, in-person theatre returns, Aponte is going back to the stage. He’ll direct The Addams Family musical at Atlanta Lyric, Oct. 27-Nov. 7, and choreograph Zarzuela: Luisa Fernanda at Florentine Opera in Milwaukee next February.
And though he’s back to the something like the old grind, Aponte doesn’t plan to stop giving back. In addition to Theatre Platform Project, he has also partnered with Atlanta-based actor and choreographer Chani Maisonet on a program called Raise Our Voices, for which they’ve receive grant money to offer six free voice lessons to Black singers, ages 16 and up.
“I’ve been so lucky with great mentors,” Aponte said. “So now I want to give back to the community where I’m not just teaching people with means.”
Kelundra Smith (she/her) is a frequent contributor to this magazine.
Support American Theatre: a just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. Please join us in this mission by making a donation to our publisher, Theatre Communications Group. When you support American Theatre magazine and TCG, you support a long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click here to make your fully tax-deductible donation today!