Manuela Velasquez is well known in the M-A theater program for her quirky and hilarious characters. Having participated on stage in six out of seven M-A productions since her freshman year, she has portrayed everything from the “emo” teen Starveling in A Midsummer Night’s Dream to a goblin-esque grandmother in “The Addams Family.”
One of Velasquez’s first experiences with the theater department was a small production of “The Little Mermaid” at La Entrada Middle School where she was cast as one of the eels. Still new to acting, she was very excited to have the opportunity to have a prominent role in the play. Most of Velasquez’s immediate family are not performers, other than her tap-dancing grandmother. Velasquez laughed when she described her grandma, “she likes to be extravagant for all those that interact with her… and she does hand dances in public, so we’ll be driving on the freeway, and she’ll be doing pearly shells. So maybe that’s where I get it.”
Velasquez came into the theater community the spring of her freshman year because, like many freshmen, she “didn’t really know who to hang out with friend wise. Most [of her] friends had all dispersed, and [she] was hanging out with a few people here and there.”
Halfway through the year, her childhood friend Harper Woods encouraged her to audition for the “Seussical” musical. Although she originally just wanted to try it out, Velasquez found herself being pulled into the creative community. She described how “there were all these moving parts, and it was colorful, and there was singing. The people were so nice and I could do all these really funny things that were goofy but it was still taken seriously, which I thought was a really great dichotomy. I felt like, even though I was just trying it, I got like sucked in.”
While portraying eccentric and comedic characters, Velasquez learned to act in ways completely different from her actual self. “It’s really liberating to totally let yourself go and not worry what everyone else is thinking of you,” she said.
The theater community actively encouraged Velasquez not to be afraid to say completely bizarre things and express herself unabashedly. Like many actors, theater helped her become more secure in her person. “Now I’ll be in class and I’ll be like ‘WHAAA’!” She said, throwing up her hands “And they’ll be like, who are you? And I’ll be like It’s just me, you know”
While she has played many characters in M-A productions, her favorite role to date is the old British man Harland, who is convinced the titanic isn’t sinking. “That one was so fun,” she said, slipping into Harland’s heinous posh accent. “You definitely feel yourself sink into the role, and immerse yourself in the hilarity of it”.
For Velasquez, the more eccentric and bizarre the role, the more fun she has portraying the character.
The M-A theater program requires a large time commitment. Auditions for the spring musical typically begin towards the end of November, only a week or two after the end of the fall play. Then, the cast and crew rehearse every weekday until the end of February in order to get the show ready for opening night. “During last week, tech week, locally known as Hell Week, rehearsal is every day until 9 p.m. It really does come together during that week because the week before you’re like ‘oh damn this isn’t a real show yet’. And it’s real rewarding after that.”
Velasquez has spent countless hours rehearsing and performing shows at M-A as well as the student-run Grab Bag Theater. Coming to the end of her senior year, she does plan on continuing to do local theater in college, just not as rigorously as at M-A since partaking in shows requires a large time commitment. However, Velasquez said that she really appreciates the long-standing impact theater will have on her and will carry her experiences with her for the rest of her life.
In college, Velasquez plans to pursue studies in anthropology and psychology, following her interest in human interaction and emotions. This is partially due to her time in the theater program and learning to portray characters completely different from her own persona, as well as “having a really great community where everyone is really accepting.”
She also plans to become more involved in activism, especially “LGBT+ activism, feminist activism … and multi-cultural activism,” since her first four years of college will align perfectly with the presidency of Trump. “There are many opportunities that I see on the road ahead of me. And I’m just really excited to be able to try a bunch of new things,” concluded Velasquez.