Christian Castro ’03, ’22 is a husband, a father, an aspiring teacher, a child of Mexican immigrants, and a persistent professional actor for 20 years. Now 41, he calls on a lifetime of hard-earned experience to bring empathy to his roles and to the students he hopes to soon be teaching.
This summer marks the third season, including 2002 and 2021, that Castro is part of the acting company at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. This year’s festival, along with a number of activities for youth, includes The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged), Much Ado About Nothing, and King Lear. Castro has parts in the latter two productions.
A native of Lombard and a graduate of Glenbard East High School, Castro graduated from Illinois State University with his first bachelor’s degree in acting almost two decades ago. He’s done voice-over work, live theater, commercials, and television. It hasn’t been all glamorous, especially when jobs and paychecks were hard to come by.
“I call acting ‘hustling,’” Castro said. “I’ve slept in my car and on friends’ couches in Los Angeles when times were tough.”
To supplement his acting income, he washed dishes, tended bar, waited tables, walked dogs, did temp work, whatever he had to do to keep his dream alive. In 2016, life improved when he married Mary, a Montessori school pre-school teacher. They now have a 4-year-old daughter named Paige, and life is even better.
Castro decided to return to his alma mater to seek another bachelor’s degree—this one in theatre teacher education—which he completed in May. Since Spanish is his first language, he also earned an English as a Second Language endorsement. He’s excited to see what his next step will be and to make an impact on young minds. In the meantime, he’s on the job hunt.
“I’ve been applying, applying, applying for jobs,” he said. “I have my K-12 license, but I really want to teach junior high or high school.”
Raised by his grandparents, Alicia and the late Jose Castro, he was forced to ignore his native Spanish when he started school as a child. The effect was profound and lasting.
“Spanish is my first language, but when I started school it was stripped away,” he said. “It was English only. When you take away a child’s mother language you make them feel like 2 cents, and they become quiet. How do they learn that way?”
Castro was a baseball player in high school and serious enough to aspire to play at a small college. But, at 16, he acted in his first play, Scapino, landing the role of Octavio, the romantic lead. The experience changed his direction. He had at first avoided auditioning for plays because he didn’t see roles for people of color in school productions, but he eventually gave it a try at the encouragement of friends and an important high school theater teacher.
“I took a theater class, and my late teacher Charlie Eichler became one of the three most influential people in my professional life,” Castro said.
Mark Kaetzer, another of his high school theater teachers, made an impact encouraging him when he had trouble getting into Illinois State the first time around.
“I wasn’t a great student back then, but my final GPA this year was 3.93,” he said. “I got to wear a gold chord at commencement.”
Castro said he recently called Kaetzer to thank him again and let him know he hasn’t forgotten his help. And, he remembers Eichler as being intuitive and complimentary but not pushy. Both men helped him find his way.
“I get it,” he said. “Now, I want the same for my students.”
He’s currently busy with Illinois Shakespeare Festival rehearsals. When he’s not rehearsing he’s memorizing his lines, adding that he’s always trying to learn more about his craft. He loves being in a company of actors for the festival.
“Because we’re in a bubble, we talk music, baseball, everything,” he said. “Some are from Houston, New York, and everyone is an open book. That means so much to me. It’s a good group of human beings.”
His director for Much Ado About Nothing is Lisa Gaye Dixon, whom he met last summer as an actor.
“I was floored by her in Winter’s Tale,” Castro said. “She brought me to tears as an actor, so I have huge respect. As a director, she has a great eye. The communication isn’t weird, and she allows organic action to happen.”
Directing him in King Lear is Illinois State Associate Professor Robert Quinlan MFA ’09. Castro never had Quinlan in class, so it’s their first time working together, and he’s impressed so far.
“He’s a great facilitator and brings great ideas,” Castro said. “He has helped me a lot already.”
Quinlan returned the compliment regarding working with Castro.
“We are so fortunate to be able to work with an actor of Christian’s caliber,” Quinlan said. “He brings years of professional experience to the stage and is a joy in rehearsals.”
Castro describes the festival’s venue, Ewing Cultural Center, as a place where everyone is in a happy mood, where he can feel the energy as soon as he sets foot on the grounds. He loves that it’s his summer workplace, making special note of the greenery, the foliage, the flowers, families picnicking, and kids running around. He plans to keep coming back to Ewing to perform as long as he can.
“I always say the best place to watch Shakespeare is under the stars,” he said. “It’s Shakespeare. It’s poetry in action.”