Esteban Andres Cruz
Esteban Andres Cruz was born in Berwyn, raised in Cicero, IL and grew up on Chicago stages. They have been an AROT Ensemble Member since 2023.
As a tiny baby 5-year-old thespian, they played Ignorance or Want in A Christmas Carol at Village Players in Oak Park, IL. In high school, they saw Rondi Reed, John Mahoney and Gary Cole in a production of Death and the Maiden. Gary Cole, a friend of Esteban’s theater teacher, came to their high school and coached them in scenes from the play. Esteban’s teacher, the late Thomas Rusnak (TR) was like a father to them, and he had gone to college at ISU with all the Steppenwolf folks. Esteban’s high school, Morton East, boasted a 2000-seat theater named the Chodl Auditorium. This is the stage they grew up on, and it’s where they were raised in all the disciplines of theater. “Theater is a collaborative art, it is the most collaborative art form, and thus, you will learn every job in the theater,” TR would say. So, Esteban learned to run carbon-arc follow spots and had to muscle an oldy-timey fly rail and hang lights from a catwalk with stage wrench, learning the difference between pars, fresnels & LEKOs. They painted sets, ran sound, stage managed and played supernumeraries professionally in high school with rentals that came through like the Lithuanian Opera and the Polish Lira Singers. Growing up and working as a techie and thespian in Cicero, Esteban learned to speak Polish, Croatian and Lithuanian before they ever learned Spanish.
Theater was okay to do in Esteban’s family, but ballet was forbidden as soon as they showed an affection for the art at age 5. At age 17, their parents separated, and Esteban auditioned for the Chance to Dance program at Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theater, the Hubbard Street of its day. Though they had never admitted a student technically from the suburbs, Esteban was not only approved but won a full scholarship, and in 6 months was dancing professionally in the Second Company. So, it was in High School they chose dance over theater and began their professional career and training. During that process, Joseph Holmes turned into Deeply Rooted Dance, and Esteban went off to college.
They attended Barat College’s Conservatory of Dance, performed in plays and worked in the costume shop for the college’s Shakespeare on the Green (they learned all aspects of theater). After 2 years at the conservatory studying Taylor-Graham and Cecchetti Ballet (and Vagonava in the summers with Salt Creek Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet), they accepted a full-ride scholarship offer from University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana’s Dance Department. After only one semester, they dropped their dance major (and scholarship) and fell in love with the English Department and studied Rhetoric; both creative non-fiction and prose poetry. Esteban’s focuses of study were on Dostoevsky, Stephen Spender, Allen Ginsburg, Lacan, Derrida, Post Colonial Theory and the Chicana Feminist Theorist Gloria Anzaldua. They assisted Jane Juffer in teaching Feminism 101, got to collaborate with Gloria herself, and became a published poet. All throughout college they danced as a soloist and then principal danseur with the Champaign-Urbana Ballet. Esteban also collaborated (choreographing and dancing) with the kindred spirit Francisca Silva (the only other Graham dancer in a post-modern school) and other choreographers. They also continued to act in plays in Champaign-Urbana. Esteban was a singer with the U of I Jazz Big Band and also sang in small jazz combos. Esteban was the only vocalist allowed to take improvisation class with the horn section.
Immediately after college, Esteban danced in the Corps de Ballet with the Cincinnati Ballet. They then danced in Chicago with Hedwig Dances, went back and danced some with Deeply Rooted, but found a home with RTG dance and choreographer Rachel Thorne Germond, where Esteban was a company member for 7 years. For most of their first decade in Chicago, Esteban danced and freelanced with many ballet companies and was a career cavalier and did about 3-5 Nutcrackers every winter. Simultaneous to their dancing career, Esteban was listening to, sitting in and singing with old jazz legends like Von Freeman and Jodie Christian. They also sang with Bobby Broom, Ron Perillo, Dennis Carroll, George Fludas and at many venues in Chicago (Von taught Estie how to take chorus after chorus at the New Apartment Lounge on 79th & MLK). In the early days (early 2000s), Esteban was not acting as much, but around 2005, they were introduced to a playwright that would become the defining artist of Esteban’s acting career: Stephen Adly Guirgis.
Esteban auditioned for the role of Pinky in Guirgis’s Our Lady of 121st St., and though they didn’t win the role, they were put on hold for the job at Steppenwolf and it started a lifelong pursuit of Guirgis’s work. They then got to play their first lead in Chicago in a Guirgis play, Jesus Hopped the A Train at Raven Theater, directed by Michael Menendian. Esteban won the celebrated Chicago Jeff Award for Best Actor for that performance. Later, they went on to play Cousin Julio in Motherfucker with the Hat, in San Diego. In 2018, Esteban won the prestigious Fox Fellowship Award through the Theatre Communications Group (which included a cash prize of $25,000). The award also led to them meeting their hero, Stephen Adly Guirgis. Since that day (January 10, 2018), Esteban and Stephen have become the best of friends and more like family. They have collaborated on a number of pieces, one of which received its Off-Broadway debut in 2019/20.
Halfway Bitches Go Straight To Heaven began performances in the fall of 2019 at the Atlantic Theater and closed on its schedule closing date, January 5th — just before the pandemic. Esteban originated the role of Venus Ramirez and was nominated for the Drama Desk Award for Best Featured actor. Additionally, since 2018, they have been collaborating with Stepehen on a commission from Warner Brothers Studios. In Guirgis’s stage adaptation of the Al Pacino movie, Dog Day Afternoon, Esteban has been reading the Chris Sarandon role of “Leon,” the main character’s wife. Through this process and other readings and workshops that Esteban has been a part of, they have gotten to work with the likes of Bobby Canavale, John Ortiz, John C. Riley, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Liza Colon Zayas, Kara Young, and the late, great Treat Williams. Most recently, Esteban has been paired with Jon Bernthal as their husband in Dog Day.
In the early 2000s is also when Esteban was introduced to A Red Orchid Theatre and their style of work. At first it mystified them, like they didn’t “get” what was going on, but the acting was also so rich and so dense, full of humanity and pathos. It looked like the kind of work that Esteban would later come to realize was their aesthetic: contemporary naturalism. Even in the most fantastical and theatrical of events, there always seemed to be a truth to the work being done at AROT. It was also not lost on Esteban that at every theater they went to see, at every theater they wanted to work at, there was always an AROT actor employed. Esteban enjoyed working with many of the ensemble on many other stages, out socializing, and even playing softball. They didn’t get to officially work with AROT until a benefit reading of Angels in America in 2016. During the pandemic, Esteban got to embody Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a reading of Diane Nora’s Ruth Bader Ginsberg: A Living Document, a love letter of a play to the late, great Ruth Bader Ginsberg, starring Blair Brown and several incredible actresses from AROT. Finally in the Spring of 2022, the stars aligned, and Esteban got to make their stage debut at AROT. Last Hermanos by Exal Iraheta was a 3-person dystopian play about a queer, uptight Salvadorian-American, white-adjacent academic trying to cross the US-Mexico border with his estranged brother in a country where it is illegal to be brown. Typical AROT-style family fun, with blood and death and an ending that’s not so happy!
Esteban is thrilled to make A Red Orchid their home in Chicago. It has been that way for a while, but it’s nice now that it is official. Chicago places worked: Writers Theatre, Steppenwolf, Lyric Opera of Chicago, 16th Street Theatre, the Goodman, Victory Gardens, The Factory Theatre, The Hypocrites, Strawdog, Oracle, Mary Arrchie, Jackalope, American Theatre Company, About Face Theatre, Urban Theatre Company, The Plagiarists, Free Street Theatre, The Guild Complex, Actors Gymnasium, Piven Theatre, New Leaf Theatre. Off Broadway: Atlantic Theatre, Soho Rep, Clubbed Thumb, Cherry Lane Theatre, Labyrinth Theatre, Latinx Playwrights Circle. Regional: La Jolla Playhouse, Peninsula Players, Theater at the Center, Cygnet Theatre, Celebration Theater, Sacred Fools Theater, Pasadena Playhouse, St Louis Rep, Milwaukee Rep, Miami New Drama and St Louis Shakespeare Festival. Select TV/Film: Spa Night (Cassavetti Best Feature), Valley of Bones, The Thin Line, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas and Rattled… Chicago Fire, Awkward, Easy, Idiot Sitter, The Bridge, You’re The Worst and South Side. For more on Estie, follow @estebanandrescruz.actor on IG and www.estebanandrescruz.com