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Hope is Esperanza

“In English my name means hope.”  Esperanza in The House on Mango Street

“How can art make a difference in the world?”  — Sandra Cisneros

 A selfie by Hope Cervantes

A selfie by Hope Cervantes

Hope Cervantes grew up in the rough-and-tumble world of show business, first led by her dancer-performer mother through the beauty pageant circuit as a baby and into early childhood, then as a child actress playing Tosha in Barney & Friends and various Barney videos, TV specials and live shows. In 2013, she drew from her life story to create and perform Imagination Island: Surviving Reality at the Minnesota Fringe Festival.

Born in Dallas,Texas, Cervantes has also lived in the show-biz meccas of California and New York. She attended performing arts middle and high schools, going on to earn a BFA in Theatre Arts from the University of Minnesota.

When asked what she may have become if she had veered off the performance path, Cervantes replied, “I loved science as a child so maybe a biochemist. Now I ask myself how I can still find a cure for humanity through theater. I believe an artist makes experiences to bring about change and give back to society. It can be self-centered–the desire for fame–but I need a deeper drive to remain in theater.”

Cervantes has been in previous Park Square Theatre productions, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations, and appeared on numerous Twin Cities stages. This October, she plays the older Esperanza on Park Square’s Proscenium Stage in The House on Mango Street, based on Sandra Cisneros’ acclaimed book about a Latina girl growing up in Chicago.

Hope Cervantes with Atquetzali Quiroz in A House on Mango Street (photograph by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Hope Cervantes with Atquetzali Quiroz, as the young Esperanza,  in A House on Mango Street
(photograph by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Cervantes read Cisneros’ book when she was in the ninth grade and definitely related to the stories. She found them to be beautifully poetic, with a simplicity that a young person could access. An example of this poetic simplicity is captured when Esperanza’s friend Darius looks up at the sky: “You see that cloud, that fat one there? . . . . That one next to the one that look like popcorn. That one there. See that. That’s God.”

Cervantes recently reread the book with a different lens, having packed in more life experiences as an adult. She did it while in New York, sitting outside to be immersed in the urban setting and sounds of children’s laughter.

“I cried after reading the book again. It was very illuminating, seeing it with new eyes,” Cervantes said. “As adults, we have the vocabulary to name things such as abuse and immigration. But a young person may experience these same issues but not have the language to name them. She makes these characters and experiences accessible in a universal way. I also appreciate Cisneros’ approach to tackling these complex issues. She does it with grace and subtlety without being didactic. She was ahead of her time in writing about these taboo topics.”

Two evening performances of The House on Mango Street will be presented on October 21 and 22. Student matinees run from October 11 to November 4. If interested, the general public is also welcome to call the Ticket Office for dates and ticket availability to attend matinees.

“I am very excited to share The House on Mango Street with our student audiences,” Cervantes added. “These are their stories, and it’s very important for them to see their experiences onstage so that they don’t  feel so alone. Mango Street has stayed with me all these years; and I hope it changes their lives, the way it changed mine. Our director, Signe Harriday, is doing a beautiful job shaping these stories and lifting Cisneros’ words from the page and translating them into theater magic. Come join us on Mango Street!”

A scene from The House on Mango Street (photograph by Petronella J. Ytsma)

A scene from A House on Mango Street
(photograph by Petronella J. Ytsma)

 I make a story for my life, for each step my brown shoe takes.”  — Esperanza in The House on Mango Street

ELI SCHLATTER: Scenic Designer for “The Liar”

Eli Schlatter

One of the most exciting and uplifting aspects of my job is the opportunity to meet some of the newest and brightest theatre talents in the Twin Cities. They are young, ultra-creative, incredibly hardworking and very committed to their work. One of these up-and-comers is Eli Schlatter, who is tasked with designing a fun but versatile set for Park Square Theatre’s upcoming area premiere of a playful comedy, The Liar, on the Proscenium Stage from September 9 to October 2.

Just three years out of college with a BFA in Theatre Design and Production from the University of Michigan, Schlatter is a freelance scenic designner and technician in the Twin Cities. His University of Michigan training closely mimicked real-life professional theatre work experiences, which allowed him to hit the ground running upon graduation. At one harrowing point in his career, he found himself juggling designs for three different shows with close opening dates.

With parents who’d met in a master’s theatre program, Schlatter described a lifetime “steeped in the theatre community.” As he put it, “I’ve been involved in theatre in different ways ‘forever.’ As a child, I saw more plays than movies.”

Schlatter acted on the Steppingstone Theatre stage in his tweens but got pulled into the technical side of theatre while at South High School. He had actually always been more intrigued with a set’s design–for instance, what would move or change on stage–and watched for, as he described, “how the world will tell the story.”

One of Schlatter’s first professional projects in the Twin Cities was as an intern for The Mystery of Irma Vep, assisting director and designer Joel Sass at the Jungle Theater (Sass will direct Park Square Theatre’s The Realistic Joneses on the Boss Stage from September 23 to October 16). To date, Schlatter has freelance designed for numerous local professional theatres, from Yellow Tree Theatre to Theater in the Round Players, and done technical work for such various venues as The Minnesota Fringe Festival and Circus Juventas. He also works on the run crew of The Children’s Theatre Company.

To be successful in his field, Schlatter must constantly put himself out there, actively and bravely searching for opportunities. He got the gig designing The Liar with what was essentially a designer’s version of auditioning: sending his resume and condensed portfolio to Artistic Director Richard Cook. Cook had obviously liked what he’d seen because Schlatter got a meeting and, two weeks later, the job.

In a future blog post, you can get an inside look at Schlatter’s scenic design process for The Liar. Don’t miss the chance for a glimpse into the making of theatre magic.

Scenic Designer Eli Schlatter (right) shows Director Doug Scholz-Carlson (left) his color set design model

Scenic Designer Eli Schlatter (right) shows Director Doug Scholz-Carlson (left) his set design model during rehearsal

(Notes: A scenic design portfolio website for Schlatter is at www.elischlatter.com; also look for the future blog “Flat Land: The World of The Liar”)

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