Atquetzali in her backyard (photo by T. T. Cheng)
This fall, The House on Mango Street appears on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage on October 21 and 22 for public audiences (Education weekday matinees continue through Nov 4). Adapted by playwright Amy Ludwig from Sandra Cisneros’ acclaimed novel of the same title, The House on Mango Street is a story-told-in-vignettes about Esperanza Cordero, a young girl growing up in a poor Latino neighborhood in Chicago. The young Esperanza, whose name means “hope,” is played by Saint Paul Public Schools ninth-grader Atquetzali Quiroz.
Scenes from A House on Mango Street (Photos by Petronella J. Ystma)
Miss Quiroz had never acted until the summer before sixth grade when she took part in a camp program called Flipside TeenVenture. She and her friends were tasked with creating a performance on bullying, and Miss Quiroz played the bully. This fun experience opened her up to later take part in school plays, including auditioning and getting a lead role in the seventh grade.
In 2015, she appeared with her mother Mary Anne in a Lake Street Arts! Stories Matter video series shown at Pangea World Theater, highlighting their work as local artists and culture-bearers of Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli and Indigenous Roots, with a relation to Minneapolis’ Lake Street. And in 2016, she reconnected with Pangea, becoming part of its ensemble for Conference of the Birds (Quiroz was a sparrow), a play based on a 12th-century Sufi poem by Farid un-Din Attar and staged to counter the nation’s unrelenting negative political rhetoric.
This July, Miss Quiroz completed filming for her first movie role in Director Jesse Mast’s Kid West. The movie is about a cowgirl and her Native American friend, played by Quiroz, in a race against neighborhood bullies to find a mysterious treasure possessing mystical powers. It is still in post-production.
But it was Miss Quiroz’s work at Pangea’s Conference of the Birds that caught the attention of Signe V. Harriday, the director of The House on Mango Street. Harriday asked her to audition for the play, then ultimately cast her in the role of the young Esperanza.
Miss Quiroz did not read Cisneros’ book until after getting the part but described it as “my mom’s favorite book.” During her own reading of Esperanza’s story, she easily connected with the character, her coming-of-age journey and the Mango Street setting.
The past few years have been unexpectedly heady ones for a girl who had not initially ever considered being on stage. Now, she may consider a performing arts school when it comes time to consider high schools.
Rehearsals for The House on Mango Street began in mid-September, the day after Atquetzali’s birthday. Matinee performances for school groups started will run until November 4.