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That time Lin Manuel Miranda surprised theater students with a visit to the Geffen Playhouse

CSU Channel Islands students had an opportunity to meet Lin-Manuel Miranda after their run of “In The Heights” was cancelled due to the Hill Fire. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision for Geffen Playhouse/AP Images)

November 16, 2018 — It all started with a letter.

“Lin,

My name is Dilan and I am a student at California State University Channel Islands in Camarillo, California. My amazing cast has been working diligently on our production of your amazing work, “In The Heights.” We created a bond and family unlike most others. This last couple weeks for our cast have been extremely tough. Halloween day, our campus was shut down and evacuated due an assault with a gun on campus. The following week, our community was devastated by the tragedy at Borderline in Thousand Oaks. We are 10 minutes from where that tragedy struck and we were deeply affected. We knew many of those lives lost. That evening was our full dress rehearsal of the show.

We were to open the very next evening. The tragedy struck and while many of us were struck with grief, it was mutually agreed upon to continue with the show and show that we can be strong together in the wake of tragedy. Our production was planned to open Thursday evening, then the Hill Fire broke out. The Hill Fire broke out right behind our campus forcing us to evacuate the grounds for 6 days, and leaving us with no opening weekend. We were finally let back onto campus Monday, only to learn that all classes and activities have been cancelled until November 26th. Activities including our production.”

After reading this letter, Lin-Manuel and the Geffen Playhouse reached out to Heather Castillo, the Assistant Professor of Performing Arts & Dance at California State University Channel Islands with a special invitation. “We have just enough tickets remaining to bring all the students involved in this production down to Los Angeles to attend this special event with Lin-Manuel and his father. Would you and your students be interested in attending?”

Their reactions were overwhelming.

Watch students at the moment they learned they were about to meet Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Thanks to generous underwriting by the Miranda family and a Geffen Playhouse donor, 35 students were on their way to the Geffen Playhouse to hear Lin-Manuel Miranda and his father, Luis A. Miranda Jr., give a talk that was about a different disaster still playing out in Puerto Rico after the devastating hurricane in 2017. Lin-Manuel acknowledged the students during the event and shared how he started in theater as a student and importance of coming together as a community to tackle adversity and disaster relief.

Soledad O’Brien moderates a conversation with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Luis A. Miranda Jr. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision for Geffen Playhouse/AP Images)

And the best part? Students were able to meet with the father/son Miranda duo following the event. They had the opportunity to ask questions and spend some quality time with their Broadway idol who offered sage advice and words of comfort to these aspiring theater ingénues.

CSU Channel Islands students with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Luis A. Miranda Jr. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision for Geffen Playhouse/AP Images)

Following the event, the Geffen Playhouse received an heartfelt email from Heather Castillo, whose students were able to experience something truly special.

I just got home a few hours ago and had the most peaceful evening with my family. The first in what feels like weeks. I am writing this as I snuggle with my littles who are asleep. You gave me hope they will be a part of a better future.

I owe that to you. Today not only did my students get to meet their idol and have a bright moment in a dark time, they learned invaluable lessons. They learned that their art is important. I think they knew that, but today they saw it in action.

They can change the world one character, one show, one song at a time. They learned people just like them can do extraordinary things, making them heroes.

Philanthropy is important. They will pay it forward. It was the primary topic of conversation at lunch. For as hard as it has been in Thousand Oaks, there are people in the world whose daily lives are always this tumultuous, and my students learned they have the power to do something about it.

Thank you will never be enough.

-Heather Castillo


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