Hi Erica! Welcome to our very first issue of Farolitos, a monthly interview series where I sit down with one of our community members to get to know them a bit better. This month we’re featuring you as one of the ALTA core team members.
Why don’t we start with the basics: What’s your name? Where are you from?
My name is Erica Cruz Hernandez, and I was born and raised in Chicago.
As an artist, being from Chicago and embracing that identity is something that is very important to me. It runs pretty deep in the sense that I’ve seen theatre companies grow,change and shift over the years- companies like Teatro Vista and Aguijón.
It also means that I had the opportunity to see actresses that looked like me represented on stages at theatres like the Goodman Theatre. I remember seeing a production of Zoot Suit while I was in high school with Sandra Delgado in it. As a high school kid, I was also lucky enough to have Sandra Marquez as a teaching artist.- so having strong influences like that be around at an early age had a significant impact on me deciding to pursue a career in the arts.
How did you become involved in ALTA?
I’m good friends with one of the cofounders, Tanya Saracho.
She had a vision of an organization that would be able to advocate for Latinx artists in Chicago, and I was all about that! Her goal was to establish a community of people that could lift each other up, and that was in line with my own personal goals.
Tanya is missed, but I feel like she planted the seeds for something and she’s making a change in her own way that is very impactful.
Could you tell us about your work with Aguijón and how you came to work with them?
Sure! I started as an actor, like a lot of people, and moved to the business end of theatre. Aguijon found me in 2010 when they were auditioning for a play called SOLDADERAS that was set to run during the Latino Theatre Festival at the Goodman and at the company’s home space in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood.
Once I found Aguijón, there was no looking back for me. Working with Aguijón, I found my home as an artist; being a Spanish-speaking artist, doing the work in Spanish, resonated with me in such a strong way. I feel that I was able to really grow with them. And I think that Aguijón has done that for a lot of artists. They’ve been around over 25 years and have seemingly been in the background, but they’ve been quietly nurturing artists and Latinx theatre the whole time.
What’s one of your favorite roles that you’ve played?
I would say my favorite role was the last one I played, in La chunga, by Mario Vargas Llosa. I played Meche: she’s this woman who starts out dependent on a man. She doesn’t know how to be on her own, and throughout the play she meets the owner of the bar that her boyfriend goes to, who basically sells her off to La chunga [the owner], but in the process she finds her own independence. She learns that she doesn’t have to be with this guy. Even though she wants to stay with La chunga, La chunga says no and sends her off to the city with some money. Meche ends up as this independent woman who never looks back.
How did you come to work at Lily’s Talent?
I feel like a lot of work is about fostering connections and building a rapport with people so they know your work and what you’re about- and a friend of mine who is the agency director at Lily’s became familiar with some of the skills I possess outside of acting and the theatre community. I did some work in corporate contracts and negotiations and this friend asked if I might be interested in working for the agency at some point and before I knew it an opportunity opened up and I took it.
Since then it’s been a quick ride, I started as an assistant in 2013 and I moved to my current position really fast. I decided to switch gears because I wanted a stronger presence of diversity in entertainment. I’m always looking for strong actors of color, as well as opportunities to develop and nurture the talent of people who are overwhelmingly underrepresented- right now especially trans and gender non-conforming actors.
Of course I can’t solve it all, but I like to hope that getting those people in front of directors, and preparing them to be there, makes a difference. If I can make a change while I’m here, I’m going to do it. My goal is to change the face of American entertainment.
What do you think is a major obstacle facing the Latinx theatre community in Chicago right now?
We need more leaders of color in large institutions. I wish there were more of us, and I don’t how to do that but I think that makes a difference. Across the board, having leaders of color makes a difference.
What’s something that ALTA can do?
ALTA could have an accountability system, where people are on board, like the #NotInOurHouse model. It could be a way to hold theatre companies accountable, but specifically the leaders of the institutions.
I don’t know what that looks like yet, but that’s why we’re at ALTA, because we’re going to figure that out, so that everyone can move forward and be showcased in a respectful, fair manner.
Check out the awesome work that Aguijón Theatre does at their website! (http://aguijontheater.org/)