Leaping into center stage

“I got to sit in on a rehearsal in Rooke Theatre, and that’s what drew me to Mount Holyoke. I thought, ‘This is amazing. I’ll get to work with real professionals and very talented, smart, knowledgeable people.”

As a child newly arrived in Lawrence, Massachusetts, from the Dominican Republic, Liz Almonte ’24 took every dance and musical theater class their mom could find. As they got older, Almonte dreamed of going to theater school but were daunted by the audition and financial aid process. They were also beginning to contemplate their queer identity. Then their high school English teacher, Samantha Doolittle ’14, suggested Mount Holyoke, even bringing them on a personal tour.

“I got to sit in on a rehearsal in Rooke Theatre, and that’s what drew me to Mount Holyoke. I thought, ‘This is amazing. I’ll get to work with real professionals and very talented, smart, knowledgeable people,’” they said.

Then the worst possible drama happened: COVID-19. Almonte might have dreamed of the big screen, but their first college acting class happened on a Zoom screen instead. Back on campus as a sophomore, they landed a starring role in “Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine,” a social satire about a haughty African American woman who falls from grace.

Almonte was never comfortable as the center of attention; they saw themselves as part of an ensemble. However, on campus, they felt safe taking the starring leap.

“I always thought, ‘I’m not a lead person. I want to ground myself in the group.’ This was a learning experience for me, and it was what really pushed me into the theater program fully. I’m so happy I got that experience,” they said.

Since then they’ve immersed themselves in the campus art scene, starring in productions at Rooke; co-founding Mount Holyoke’s only Latine dance group, Sangre del Sol and singing a cappella with Milk and Cookies. Here, they found their groove and pushed themselves creatively against a backdrop of support. This spring they made their directorial debut with José Rivera’s absurdist play “Marisol,” with lots of friends in the audience. It was a special triumph.

“Not only was I a first-generation college student, but I’m a queer person of color,” they said. “The department really had my back 110 percent even when I was overwhelmed. I just felt such love and support from the department and from every single person involved. My Spanish professor came. The nurse practitioner who works with me at the health center came.

“It was so beautiful. I felt really supported by my community. I got to see extensively the work that I have done here, how much love I poured into this place and how it made a difference for a lot of people,” they said.

Off campus, they work at Holyoke’s Arts Integration Studio as a teaching artist, bringing intergenerational arts workshops to the Treehouse Community in Easthampton, a group for families in the child welfare system. The work feels deeply personal.

“My family is a foster family as well. We’ve been fostering children since I was in high school. That’s what really drew me to the opportunity: doing something I love, theater and the arts, but also working with youth affected by the welfare system, which brings me a lot of joy. It feels like I have a bunch of siblings,” they said.

After graduation, Almonte will continue to act and mentor: They landed the starring role in “Bulrusher” at the Silverthorne Theater Company in Greenfield, Massachusetts, debuting this summer. In the long term, they plan to start arts programming for kids in their hometown of Lawrence.

“There are a lot of nonprofits in my city, but especially in Lawrence, sometimes there’s not a push for the arts. You have all these talented filmmakers, poets, writers and actors who are working in the city, but it’s not really being broadcasted the way that negative headlines about Lawrence are broadcasted. I would love to give back to the city in that way by creating a professional space to learn about theater and what a career in the arts would look like,” they said.

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