Interview: Ciara Alyse Harris of DEAR EVAN HANSEN at Straz Center

The twenty-six-year-old actor wants the audience to see themselves on stage.

By: Feb. 01, 2022
Interview: Ciara Alyse Harris of DEAR EVAN HANSEN at Straz Center
Straz Photo by Matthew Murphy

Opening tonight through February 6 is the return of the emotionally nuanced six-time Tony Award-winning and a Grammy Award-winning musical, DEAR EVAN HANSEN. The musical tells the story of Evan Hansen, a teen boy with social anxiety who so wants so badly to belong that when an assumption is made about his relationship with a deceased student, he chooses not to correct it. What happens is a deception that unintentionally metamorphosizes into giving a voice to the silent.

Miami local Ciara Alyse Harris plays the go-getter Alana in the production.

Ciara began singing in the choir at her private Christian school and gospel at church at three. She fell in love with theatre at a theatre camp at just ten years old.

"I fell in love with the idea of community. That was really the thing that kept me - we all put a lot of hard work into something that means the most to us. I fell in love with the idea of telling stories."

Fast forward several years to college, and Ciara graduated from Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music with a bachelor's in musical theatre in 2018. A couple of weeks before graduation, the casting team of DEAR EVAN HANSEN reached out to the school for headshots to consider casting the first national tour. Ciara was asked to audition.

"I did my first audition for them the morning of my senior showcase where you perform songs before a group of agents so you can get representation. I auditioned a couple more times and did a couple more work sessions over a period of, maybe, two months," she explained. "Then, in my U-Haul truck on my way to moving to New York City, I found out that I got a call-back. I got very lucky."

Interview: Ciara Alyse Harris of DEAR EVAN HANSEN at Straz Center Ciara started as an understudy for both Zoe and Alana and graduated into the role of Alana. She is excited to bring the show to people who might never get the opportunity to see the show on Broadway.

"It has been a ride. I am so thankful for my time as an understudy because I learned so much. I really learned how to pull it together, and no one needed to worry about me because I knew my stuff. It taught me resilience, strength, and patience. Being Alana, I learned to enjoy myself and cultivate my role. There have been many amazing people before me, and now I get the chance to do what I want to do and have ownership over the role. I'm very lucky that I came into the production with (knowledge of) both sides."

Ciara said her character of Alana is trying desperately to find ways to connect.

"I love this character. By saying she knew him (the deceased), this is her 'in' on connection, community, and building friends. A lot of the time, she can get overlooked. I think she's so multifaceted. Let me show you how smart and valuable I am to be deemed lovable. She feels she has to be the most responsible person in the room so nobody will leave her behind," Ciara said. "I totally resonate with this so much. Back in school, I was one of the only black people in my class and in my grade. I know the feeling of, 'I need to be more.' I need to show people that I'm smart and perfect. My color put me at a disadvantage because there were stereotypes about me before I even walked into the room. I like to play Alana like she's one of the very few black people in her school. She's the only black person on the stage when I play her. I like to go in with her overcompensating, having a lot to prove. There's only one of me, but I am representing a lot of other people. That's my thought process with her."

While Ciara is excited to return to the Straz in Tampa, in her hometown of Miami, she'll be on stage in front of teachers, family, and friends, performing at the same theatre where she grew up seeing shows.

She relayed her favorite story from a fan's mother.

"I got this beautiful message the other day from a mom telling me her daughter felt so connected to Alana. She was crying and said, 'Mom, that's me.' That changed my whole world because I have this mission that I'm going to change a lot of the ways people think about Alana. The fans are amazing, and it's a constant reminder of what we are doing for a young community and mental health, as well."

In any time off, Ciara works on her advice-giving podcast called Queen Made of Light, "about self-love, and self-healing." She tells her story and lets people know they are not alone. The podcast is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

"This musical is so relatable in the best ways. I just want people to have a cathartic experience. I'm so proud to be part of a show that gets people talking. I'm so lucky. I'm twenty-six years old, and I get to do what I love for a living, and in such an important show."

DEAR EVAN HANSEN is Feb 1- 6 at Straz Center. Learn more and get your tickets at

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