Nicole DeRoux

by Lily Condodina

 


Nicole deRoux, 23 years old, Black (Jamaican) and White, currently resides in New Jersey

 



Is there anything you have to share from childhood? Because I feel like childhood is a pretty formative stage. And I was wondering if there’s any particular point when you felt like you became more aware of yourself and the people around you. Whether it was your gender or your race because Global Girlhood is obviously focusing on women, but since February’s Black History month, we want to incorporate as much of that aspect into this as possible. I'm not sure if there’s a specific event, but really anything you feel like you were disappointed with people around you, pleased, supported, maybe they could be educated more—anything like that.



I mean, I would say that early on, my parents made it pretty clear saying that you know, being black or mixed race in Westfield—you know, you feel different than other kids your age. So I think my parents just made it a pretty clear thing to me that our race and our ethnicity and our family culture is very important. And that shouldn’t be diminished because of anybody else’s opinions. And you know, a lot of the time, I hear stories from other kids whose parents are immigrants and you start to notice the difference when you bring in lunch and it doesn’t look like anyone else’s because you have food that is based on your culture and people don’t know what it is, and they kind of give you weird looks or weird comments. So that started happening in elementary school, and I was like “Okay, this is a cultural thing that other people around here just don’t understand, but that’s ok.” But that, my parents taught me to work against.


I would say in high school was where I would start to notice microaggressions and just certain things that people would say or comments that they would have about my hair or my skin, or the way that I was BIPOC that they at the time, probably didn’t know wasn’t right to say and at the time I didn’t even know that I should be telling them that I didn’t like what they were saying to me, so that was when I really started to notice it. But I wasn’t at a time in my life when I was ready to combat it or educate anybody. But it was definitely clear.


Right, right, and then as you grew older, I know you went to Drexel, so tell me a little bit about that, what you studied, and then we can go into your journey after college.


So after graduation I went to Drexel. I was there studying marketing and fashion merchandising. I was also a dance scholarship student, so I was there involved in a dance program, we put on shows twice a year, so I was involved in choreography and I was involved in dancing pieces. But Drexel’s in Philly, so it’s in a big city, and that’s what I went there for. I was looking for a place that was immersed in a different kind of culture. I didn’t want to go to a campus that was sort of a bubble. I didn’t want to be in this separated world—I really wanted to go to a city where I saw real people and I saw people from all over the world, from all different cultures coming together in this one geographical area. In Philly, there’s also UPenn, there’s Drexel, there’s Temple, there’s St. Joe’s, there’s tons of universities in a really close area, so I just thought that was really cool. And it really opened my eyes to be surrounded by very intelligent, very talented people who come from all over the world and so many different cultures. And they all highlighted that in themselves, and I loved that.


Yeah, so that’s mirroring the real world that you get into once you get out of college—you know, reality and everything. And you clearly have a passion for dance; I love how you then aligned that with work. So you’re a dancer on the Hamilton traveling tour, correct?


Yes!


Which is one of the many reasons why I wanted to reach out to you because that show is so impactful in so many ways and really accomplished because of the diversity and representation they have onstage, so maybe could you tell me a bit about the show—how it has shaped you or helped you to grow?


Yeah, I mean, it has been huge. When I first joined the company, it was very clear to me that it was the most diverse group of people I had ever involved with in my life. Like Drexel was relatively diverse, but not nearly as much as this cast was. And the cast is filled with people who are the kindest, most talented singers, dancers, actors. And they seriously come from all different places in life. Everyone got to this point, this job, differently, and that’s what I love about it. Because the way that I branched into musical theatre wasn’t necessarily the way everyone else does it, or the timelines are different. So I just really enjoyed getting to know each person from the cast and seeing how they got there. Like certain people went to school for acting, certain people went to school for business, certain people people went for—again, a million other things. So it was just really interesting to get to know everybody’s history and just see how talented these actors are, and how much people love the show. I think the audience is one of the most impactful things on us because we perform 8 shows a week. It’s really hard, it takes a lot of effort and we love it obviously, and it’s difficult. But the fact that nearly two thousand people show up to every show every single day with their families, with their loved ones, and they watch intently for three hours—it’s


Yeah, it's amazing.


Even like not even watch intently, they sing, and they dance, they're smiling, they love the music, they love the show, and they know it so well, so it's just so clear that it's like a huge force in their own lives so it keeps us going.


Yeah, I feel like that show is like no other, like at least in my lifetime, has ever had an impact on people and I almost feel like it's more than just a show to so many people. And even—correct me if I'm wrong—but I believe Hamilton itself or the organization behind it, I've seen their instagram and stuff, has been super vocal about any injustices and such that have occurred and become really clear mostly or predominantly in the media over like the past year and stuff. And rightfully so in their encouragement for people to vote obviously because the show is all about the founding of America. So I don't know if you have anything to expand on that, if you know anything about how the show has gotten involved with that sort of thing.


Definitely, I was going to say, that's a really good thing to bring up because that was in large part due to the fact that the cast didn't think the company was doing enough. Yeah, so we as a company, after George Floyd was killed, we had a lot of meetings with hundreds of people from all different Hamilton companies, all different levels of the company. And as the actors in it, we were like what does this show stand for? And we need to express the values of the show through the social media accounts and through whatever medium we can for invoking change in the world. Because if you’re going to sing “My Shot” for six years every day and talk about how you need to rise up and change the world, and if you don't like what you're seeing, you have to do something about it yourself. If you're gonna make us sing about that and we feel passionate about singing it and performing it every day, we need to do it in real life. So it honestly was the acting company who said, hey you know what you guys aren't doing enough. We need you to talk about everything that's going on every time that something happens, we need you to post about voting, we need you guys to just really get involved and put the values of the show out there.


Yeah, that's so cool, I didn't know that. And that's also like it's so important to have a diverse and representative cast whether you're in a show or a company or any sort of business. That's so important because then you're able to speak up for what you believe in, empower, educate others, and enforce those ideas.


Absolutely, that's kind of what we were thinking too. We were just like, well if you're going to hire all these people of color from different cultures, you have to support the lives of these kinds of people in real life. You can't just provide an acting job to minority groups and say that's enough. You have to do that and also support these groups where they need it most. Hamilton also has done a good job about that with regards to education. So there's a program called EduHam that has been running for probably the past four years, I would guess. It's a program with the Gilder Lerman institute and Hamilton. They worked together, and they created a class program for schools across the country. So we send this out to teachers and they get to teach a curriculum based on Hamilton. Then, at the end of the term, or the semester, students create their own pieces, their own poetry, their own songs, their own dances—all these things. They get to come to our show, they get to watch the show, and then, they get to perform on our stage whatever they've been working on for the past couple months after learning about American History and the show.


That's so cool!


Yeah, it's really really cool because then once a month, we get like 10 bus loads of kids who probably wouldn't have the opportunity to come see the show if it had to be their parents buying the ticket, but they come see us and learn from us and get to perform as well, so that is definitely something that Hamilton prides itself on, that's a great program.


Yeah, that's amazing so this show has clearly allowed you, along with your other cast members, and the show as a whole to empower others and reach so many people. I was just wondering if you have any specific strategies or ways that you personally empower yourself: maybe there's someone in your life that taught you the importance of empowerment, speaking out about what you believe in, or affected your life in any way


That's interesting. I would say that my mom did. I mean my mom's an artist—she's a painter, a visual artist. And just growing up as a dancer I think that she taught me and I was taught to just put that forward: what your feelings are and what you want to say with your art will reach people, and it just gets reinforced over and over again every time you try or you put something out and people react to it and they're like wow, I really connected with this. It reinforces that your voice matters and whatever way, whatever outlet you have to share it. Any creative outlet is an important place to share your stamp on things. In college, I really dug into that. When it came to my choreography, my main goal was to make somebody feel something. I wanted to put my thoughts, my feelings, and my values out. And hopefully something would land and connect with the people watching, and they would feel something, and it would change them and change their perspective or make them think about something. So art is really important in that sense. And then more recently, I've just allowed social media to be the way that I remind myself to use what I can. So even if I’m at home and I see the same four people every single day, there are, you know, a couple thousand people who follow me.


Yeah, there's a way to reach people.


Yeah, and sometimes they might have the same beliefs as me, and it might sound like I'm just a broken record saying the same things over and over again to the people who believe what I'm saying, but there might be a couple that don't and there might be a couple that aren't so educated on certain topics, so I find it valuable regardless just to share what I'm thinking and put it out there and whatever sticks with followers, it does. If it doesn't, move along.


Yeah, that's a great point. You know, there are literally so many ways to empower yourself and others—like educate yourself or others. And you can do it through so many different avenues, and just follow whatever you're passionate about and bring that into it. So, this month or next month, February, Global Girlhood is honoring Black History Month, so what they want to know, and what I want to know is what black history month means to you really in any way. I mean it's pretty open-ended.


I would say there's two sides of it for me. The first half would be just taking the time personally to educate myself because I don't think anyone's finished learning, so if it's a time where we're supposed to be dedicating ourselves to honoring the history, that's what we should be doing. So taking time, you know, I've had friends who in black history month have posted once a day you know a black author that they wanted to highlight. Like once a day, they just posted about an author and wrote a little thing about them or they wrote once a day posted about a black visual artist, so I think that that's a great way to educate yourself. Each day, find a new you know musician that you love that's black that you don't know much about, go listen to their music all day, find an author, read some poems by a black poet that you didn't know, or maybe you hadn't read that poem before. Go watch some choreography, some dance choreography, look up painters, look up artists online. It's just so simple to find more to love about you know your history; or even if it's not your history, and anyone should do this.


Yeah, I think there are always new things to learn, there are always messages behind it


Yeah, so much, and you can just find what you love and keep digging into it, so I think that's one part of celebrating black history month and then the other part would be sharing. Sharing your experience and your history. Hamilton, this year, is doing an open mic night kind of performance, so I'm involved in one of the pieces, and I'm doing some choreography, and I get to work with people from my cast and other casts and just like put together a dance number, which is really great. It's just an evening to celebrate history and work together in a creative way and share our talents so I think that that's also a great way to honor it and celebrate it.


Definitely, so I know you said educating yourself with books, art, anything. Do you have any books, podcasts, artists, any type of media, or any type of even just role model who you look up to or you like their work and would want to share with the Global Girlhood community?


Yeah, absolutely. I mean a couple of my favorites that I've read in the past year: James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time is an incredible very short book about his life and his involvement in the civil rights movement. I love reading Tony Morrison, she's an incredible author; anything that I have of hers I love. I've read Maya Angelou, she's an important historic author that I think a lot of people should read. Obviously, Becoming by Michelle Obama.


I love that book and documentary.


Yeah, it's so good you have to have to read it. I've read one that Barack Obama wrote once: his time when he was in the senate. That was a little drier for me, but I still recommend reading it. And visual artists, one of my big favorites is Kehinde Wiley. He is a contemporary black painter, and he is truly iconic. His most famous I think is for painting Barack Obama's presidential portrait. So if you look that up, that's pretty much like what his style generally looks. He does these massive scale painting portraits that are done in a more historic, classical style, but they have this funky element to them. So they're really really striking and as soon as you see one, you'll recognize it everywhere you go. And when I was touring the country with my first year on Hamilton, I would go to a museum in every single city. I would just always go, it's my favorite thing to do. So I saw Kehinde Wiley's work all over the place. He's incredible—that's definitely a person to check out. And then Mickalene Thomas. She's incredible. Her work is like a multimedia portrait. She always uses rhinestones and glitter and makes really empowering images of women, and it's just so fierce and amazing. So she is somebody that I've also seen multiple times in different museums across the country, and I love her work. So those are two painters and some authors that I love.


No, thank you so much, that was great. I'm definitely gonna use some of that and look it up. So I really only have one official question left: Do you have anything that you would like to share with the Global Girlhood community? Anyone reading this—either any advice for girls, minorities, or both, or even advice for allies in these times that want to really educate themselves.


Yeah, I mean I would just say that we're all doing the work. So don't ever think that you're behind or you don't know enough or that you can't speak on something because you don't think you're educated enough. Everybody's working on it, so all you can do is continue to learn and just keep reading. I, as a black person, I still have so much I need to do. I need to keep reading, I need to keep listening to different artists, I need to make sure I'm listening to jazz and blues and R&B—all these musical styles that were born from Harlem and black people. But you’ve just got to keep going, just keep digging into whatever you can, and then trust yourself that you know what you're talking about or that you feel strongly. If you have something positive to add, you might as well add it. So I think that women in general and people of different cultures just need to trust themselves and know that what they have to offer is really special and put it out there.