At The Theatre: An Interview with Jennifer Florentino from On Your Feet! (in parntership with Playhouse Square)

The Connor Palace at Playhouse Square decorated for the holidays

You may have heard I will be serving as Playhouse Square‘s Community Engagement and Education’s blogger for the KeyBank Broadway Series for the third season running. I’ll take you behind the scenes to interview a member of the featured show’s cast, crew or creative team for each of the Broadway Series performances. Pretty cool, huh?!

The second show in the 2017-18 series is On Your Feet!

Getting to see this show this past weekend was incredibly special for me. You see, my mom took me to see Gloria Estefan at the Coliseum at Richfield when I was five years old. I was in love with the pop singer — I knew every word to every song she sang. One road trip to St. Louis still lives in family infamy as I insisted on only listening to the Miami Sound Machine from Northeast Ohio to the St. Louis Arch and back. My grandmother nearly walked back home, ha! So as a thank you to my mom – nearly 30 years later – I took her to see the touring production of this fun, vibrant musical that tells the tale of Gloria and her husband, Emilio, through incredible music, dance, sets, costumes and storytelling. It’s only in town through this Saturday, so grab tickets while you can.

Today, as a part of my blogging duties,  I’m sharing my Playhouse Square Behind-the-Curtain interview with Jennifer Florentino, the Assistant Dance Captain for the production!

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Tell us about yourself. How did you discover dance? How did it bring you to the theater, specifically On Your Feet!?

I was born and raised in Paterson, New Jersey and grew up in a Dominican household. Every Saturday morning, my father would always turn up the radio and dance merengue, salsa or bachata for his morning exercise. That is where I discovered my love for dance. My mother put me in a dance school, but when it was becoming financially stressful, I attended performing art schools. I graduated from Point Park University with a Bachelors of Fine Arts and soon after worked with companies such as Deeply Rooted Dance Theater and with Sonya Tayeh’s you’ll still call me by name. I always had the desire to do musical theater and that is when my manager Lakey Wolff exposed me to On Your Feet! and I instantly fell in love with the story and movement. I auditioned for the company twice. I was granted the opportunity to be a part of two promotional performances before receiving the call to join the company.

In serving as the Assistant Dance Captain of the tour, what does your role entail and how does it continue to evolve? What challenges arise as you are on the road?

My role as Assistant Dance Captain is to assist our wonderful dance captain, Skizzo Arnedillo, in making sure that we maintain the integrity of the work on the road. We’ve developed such a healthy and great partnership while doing so. As Sergio always reminds us, “we are his eyes on the road.” Our responsibility is to make sure the choreography and transitions remain clear and tight, constantly serving as a reminder to keep the movement authentic and true to its narrative without taking the actors’ nuances they’ve discovered in each of their roles inside of the work. My challenge is balancing being an assistant dance captain/swing and keeping up with what I need personally. How do I remain grounded while constantly on the move? I’ve developed a ritual in the morning that sets the tone for each day. I take it one day, show, number at a time.

You are working on a show with some very well respected names associated with it, including Emilio and Gloria Estefan, plus several Tony Award winning/nominated theater professionals. What lessons have you learned while working with this team?

Lessons I’ve learned with working with this team is how important consistency is. “Everything that has value in this life is a product of consistency.” This is why individuals like Gloria, Emilio, Sergio and Jerry still continue to be successful in their journey. It takes a great amount of dedication, openness and sacrifice. Like them, I’m very committed to the work and stay true to my mission and artistry inside of it.

Emilio and Gloria Estefan are well known to many thanks to their decades in mainstream pop music. As a part of the cast and crew bringing their entire story to the stage, is there something about their lives/careers that you did not know and/or struck a chord with you?

My family and I grew up listening to Gloria’s music, but I didn’t know her upbringing. It’s wonderful to know how family-oriented she was and continues to be with her loved ones.

Are there specific moments and/or songs in the show that are favorites for you? For the audience?

I really enjoy watching this show in its entirety. But one specific number that really just lifts my spirits is “Tradicion.” That number really demonstrates the warmth and celebratory community that lives deeply rooted within our culture. It truly takes me back home where my family is from in Dominican Republic. You know in the marquesina, smelling the rich food and just enjoying each others company. I believe that is what audience sees from the cast.

What makes this tour of On Your Feet! stand out from everything else that you worked on over the years?

I cannot express enough how grateful I am to be apart of On Your Feet! This is one of the few Broadway productions that truly celebrates our Latin culture. As an Afro-Latina performer it brings me joy that I’ve found yet another safe space where I could be my unapologetic self on and off-stage… the show requires us to be. It allows us to engage, share and celebrate one another. You know that the audience sees a community of people that help one another. In these times, it’s vital to share the importance of what it is to work together. At the end of every show, the entire theater (some theaters carry over 3,000 seats) are on their feet standing together with so much joy and pride. That is my why.

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On Your Feet! runs December 5 – 23, 2017 in the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square. For more information, please visit the show’s page on the Playhouse Square website.

Learn more about Playhouse Square: follow Playhouse Square on Facebook, on Twitter at @playhousesquare & on Instagram at @playhousesquare. As before and always, many thanks yous to the Playhouse Square team for the opportunity to serve as a Broadway Buzz contributor!

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