For his latest role, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the playwright and star of “Hamilton,” has shed the ruffled shirts and baroque jackets of the Founding Father for the T-shirt, jeans and beachy bare feet of a Puerto Rico visitor. Instead of the United States in 1776, he has set his performance in Puerto Rico nearly two years after Hurricane Maria. He still wears his signature goatee, but it is less coifed. In the birthplace of his parents, Miranda can let his hair down, so to speak. Since the Category 5 hurricane devastated Puerto Rico, Miranda has become an impassioned voice for the island and its recovery efforts.
To encourage travelers to the tropical destination, he appeared in an eight-part online series called “Discover Puerto Rico with Lin-Manue l,” which Discover Puerto Rico unveiled last month on its website. In the short videos, Miranda delves into the culture, art, cuisine and personalities of Puerto Rico. He strolls on the beach with actress-musician Denise Quiñones; dances salsa in San Juan; drinks coffee in the Central Mountain Range area; discovers the emerging neighborhood of Calle Loíza; tours the public art scene, which includes a mural of his grandfather and himself; and visits Vega Alta, where he spent summers with his grandparents. In one touching segment, he and his father hang with locals in a plaza that honors his late grandfather. To learn more about the series and his love for Puerto Rico, we reached out to Miranda, who took a break in his hectic schedule to chat about both over email.
Q: How did this project come about, and why did you agree to participate in the Web series?
A: After Hurricane Maria, we all needed to pull together, looking for strategies and ways to help Puerto Rico in terms of both immediate relief and long-term recovery. In the long-term, we knew bringing tourists back to the island was key for Puerto Rico’s economic survival and prosperity. I made myself available to the Puerto Rico Tourism Company and the DMO (Destination Marketing Organization). Given that I had spent my childhood summers in Puerto Rico, I had a good idea of the things that were special to me on the island; places I visited with my grandparents and my parents and stories I wanted to highlight.
Q: How involved were you in the creative process?
A: I was very involved, as was my dad, Luis. We knew we wanted to show the Puerto Rico I discovered growing up; the Puerto Rico I have in my heart. I knew the series needed to showcase music, art, agriculture and coffee and the architecture of Old San Juan. To figure out the specifics and logistics, and given that the Puerto Rico of my childhood and adolescence has changed a bit, I relied on a team of individuals who are deeply immersed in day-to-day life on the island to help plan our journey. That’s how Calle Loíza, an area that has undergone a massive transformation since I was a kid, became an important part of the series with its own chapter.
Q: Describe the filming schedule.
A: The series was filmed in just two days. It was a marathon! We arrived on the island with a solid plan, met up with our crew, went from place to place to place and got all the footage we were hoping for. It was such a rich experience, and we spoke with so many incredible people. It then took a while to edit each of the episodes. We wanted to release the series to coincide with the launch of Discover Puerto Rico.
Q: What message do you hope to impart through the series, and what can the videos teach viewers?
A: Through the series, I tried to convey that Puerto Rico is a destination where you can find whatever you’re looking for. It has the beautiful beaches, the history and majesty of Old San Juan and its fortresses, incredible landscapes, modern architecture and fantastic museums. There are rich and varied culinary experiences to be found, resulting from the fusion of cultures that have shaped Puerto Rican identity. There is a vibrant music scene that’s alive everywhere on the island. I wanted to show everyone the wonders that Puerto Ricans see and experience in their daily life.
Q: Any blooper-reel moments you wish to share or material that ended up on the cutting room floor?
A: We filmed a great conversation I had with a group of emerging theater artists in San Juan. I talked with actors, directors and designers whose resilience and determination to rebuild Puerto Rico through culture and arts touched me profoundly. All of the conversation did not make it to the final Web series, but I still feel that audiences would benefit from listening to these young artists’ stories. There might be a surprise bonus episode where our talk is featured. It might be kind of like a DiscoverPRDrop! So, stay tuned.
Q: How far has Puerto Rico come in its recovery efforts, and should Puerto Ricans move past Hurricane Maria?
A: I believe Puerto Ricans will never completely leave Hurricane Maria behind, and quite frankly, they shouldn’t. That experience is a part of them. What happened serves as a reminder of why we must continue to build a more sustainable, unique and unified Puerto Rico. That process continues. Puerto Ricans are the most resilient people in the world. My uncle’s family and their hometown did not have electricity for six months. People went ahead with their lives, helping themselves and helping each other. Much more still needs to happen, but things have been improving. I hope this series will entice many people to visit and learn what Puerto Rico is all about and all it has to offer.
Q: Do you have any plans to visit Puerto Rico?
A: I was just in Puerto Rico last April, and we are involved in so many initiatives that whenever I have a chance, I’ll visit.
Q: Since you are such a coffee connoisseur, what is the proper way to drink a cup of Puerto Rican coffee? And where did you get that coffee tattoo? [See Episode 8 for the ankle reveal.]
A: The legit way to drink Puerto Rican coffee, in my opinion, is to get freshly brewed espresso, boil the milk separately, and then pour the milk on the fresh brew. Coffee that sits around before the mix is not good! If you pour boiled milk in the coffee and the milk doesn’t erupt up and form a castle, it’s old coffee, and you need a fresh brew. Then make it sweet.
As for the tattoo, it was 2017. Maria had hit Puerto Rico in September, and we invited family from the island the spend New Year’s Eve with us in New York City. My relatives from the island still had no electricity, and when my dad asked my uncle, ‘What do you want for Christmas?,” my uncle said, “A hot shower.” Most Puerto Rican households run electric water heaters. So they all came to New York and on New Year’s Eve, as we waited for 2018, we agreed that all cousins present would get a tattoo — same design for everyone. We debated design and themes, and all we could agree upon was a cup of coffee. The ladies agreed to have it done on their wrist and the guys on their ankle. We went and got it done together at a tattoo shop in Chinatown.
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