Erika Soto Q&A: Hispanic & Latinx Heritage Month
By Bridgette Ramirez
October 9, 2021
Erika Soto (she/her/hers) is a Resident Artist at A Noise Within who has blossomed as a performer since childhood, thanks to family, teachers, and mentors who have guided her along the way. Learn more about her life and how she started the path to her dream job as an actor!
How did you get started on your artistic journey?
As an only grandchild, I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandmother who loved to dance. My whole family are very expressive and are dancers, really. As soon as I could talk and walk, I’d sing and dance whatever my grandmother taught me to sing and dance; cumbia, merengue, popular Spanish lullabies and songs. Then when I was 9 years old, my mom put me in a couple of traditional Mexican folk dance schools. In middle school (a particularly rough time for me socially), an English teacher was impressed with an oral presentation I made and suggested I swap my Home Economics elective to Speech & Drama class. THAT was REALLY the start of it, I think. I’d already been performing as a folk dancer for a few years, but coming of age cutting my teeth on poetry, prose, monologues, and scene work was a game changer. I joined the Drama Club and competed against the other middle schools in the district… and won! A lot! It was a very empowering experience given that I suddenly had something I could feel proud of during a time that was otherwise painfully awkward and ostracizing. My drama teacher told me about a performing arts high school which I was later accepted to. Then, I chose to continue studying acting in college… And the rest is still history being made!
How did you get to where you are now? What challenges did you face on the way?
With so much help! I’m truly grateful that I’ve somehow managed to pick a career path that makes me so happy and that I have been able to stay on it, one step at a time. I have so many teachers and mentors to thank for that. Every step along the way I’ve had someone who’s encouraged me to keep going – starting with my grandmother and mom. They both fiercely supported my artistic endeavors since day one; I simply would not be here without their unfaltering faith in me. Then there is the long line of generous, brilliant, and loving teachers, professors, directors, mentors who helped and inspired me (and still do!), or who simply reminded me to not give up. Ever.
I think my biggest challenge has, ultimately, been my own mind; doubt, fear, frustration, confusion, low self-esteem… The professional industry is marvelous but can also test your resolve, will, and self worth. Sure, there has been rejection, long hours, struggle to pay tuition, loans, bills, etc., but understanding the importance of mental health and maintaining a healthy mindset has been tougher than any job, side hustle, financial struggle, or other obstacle in the material world. I now know that my inner peace and clarity is key to longevity and integrity as an artist.
How did you find and end up at ANW?
Again – teachers!! One of my USC professors recommended me to another USC professor who was to direct You Never Can Tell! I was invited to audition and landed the role of Dolly Clandon! Oh my gosh IT WAS SO MUCH FUN. I loved that show. I don’t think I’ve ever bounced around a stage as much as I did during that run. Around the same time, I did a staged reading of Arcadia, which I was later cast in as well! My start with this company felt super special and magical.
How does your culture, family background, and history influence your work?
My grandmother was so passionate – about dance, about singing, about performing, about expressing yourself, about being larger than life. She was loud and proud and intense, and I was raised on that vigor. I’d like to think I bring that same fire and essence to my work. Also, as first generation and the first in my family to receive the levels of education and opportunity that I have in this country, I feel a great sense of purpose and pride in being an artist – not because I have anything to prove, but because their dedication and sacrifice mean I GET to do what I love.
Out of all your accomplishments in theatre, what are you most proud of?
Sometimes a role comes along that just clicks into place with where you are in life as an artist and as a human. Playing Juliet in Romeo and Juliet in 2015 was a role like that for me. I felt I gave my heart and soul to it and I’m really proud of what I managed to accomplish. The most special thing about that experience, though, was having a Latinx woman come up to me one night with her young daughter in tow. She told me it was the first time they’d seen a Shakespeare play, and they were so excited to realize that the lead character was Latina. She said her daughter had never thought about doing Shakespeare before but after watching the show was inspired to be an actress and do classical theatre as well. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more grateful or proud. We hugged and I thought, “Yes, yes, YES! This is it! This is the whole point!” It was awesome.
Who is your favorite Latinx author/playwright? Or alternatively, what’s your favorite Latinx play?
I’m not entirely sure this counts (because the playwright is technically European – although the play did premiere in Argentina!), but I love Federico Garcia Lorca’s La Casa de Bernarda Alba. With a fierce cast of women, it explores repression, conformity, sisterhood, as well as the influence men have on women at the time. I just love the complex, multi-generational relationships, passion, drama, and tragedy in that story. It’s gorgeous poetry as well.