About six years ago, I was invited to produce a diversity showcase for the University of Southern California's BA Theatre students. Through that process, I was introduced to a beautiful tapestry of actors of color, all about to graduate and take the entertainment business by storm. As a recent arts graduate myself, I knew that place - the optimism, the promise, the potential of those first years after graduation. I also knew that the first years after graduation were perhaps the toughest: the transition from the academic bubble to the “real world” is one of soul-searching, managing rejection, and many times self-making opportunities.
What struck me about the students in this showcase was how grounded they were. They knew what was possible and they had a plan, a tangible plan, for how to attain it. One of the students who really caught my eye was Erika Soto. I recall her saying that she was motivated to focus her work on classical theatre. I recommended that she look into A Noise Within, a classical repertory company at which I had recently served as a directing intern. Erika was already acutely aware of the company, its work, and its players. Something told me that I would see her on A Noise Within's stage one day.
Well, that day is now. Currently, Erika Soto is giving an inspired and well-honed turn as Vivie Warren in the Michael Michetti-directed production of Mrs. Warren's Profession by George Bernard Shaw. The show is running until November 18 at A Noise Within, and it is a production not to be missed. After opening, I took some time to chat with Erika Soto about her experience working on Shaw's play at A Noise Within, and in “the biz” in general.
Roger Q. Mason (RQM): How did you get involved with A Noise Within?
Erika Soto (ES): I was asked to audition for the production of George Bernard Shaw's You Never Can Tell, and before starting rehearsals for that I did a staged reading of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. I later played Thomasina in the fully staged production!
RQM: Why is it important for us to keep making classical theatre?
ES: Oh, wow, for so many reasons. But I think classical theatre is classical because it thematically transcends time and place. I think it's important to have a healthy ongoing narrative about the human experience through the telling and retelling of great stories.
RQM: Mrs. Warren's Profession is considered one of Shaw's “problem plays”. What was the first thought that went through your mind after the first read through?
ES: My FIRST thought was “I can't wait to get started on this!” But I really see it as a beautiful examination of what actually happens to people in their struggles to navigate complicated relationships. Personally, I don't see a problem with plays and characters being messy and complex; that's life!
RQM: How are parent/child relations different and the same between Shaw's time and now?
ES: I think this question could have as many different answers as there are parent/child relationships! I don't know that I have an answer for that. What I can speak to is the “fresh” quality of the production you mentioned. I think we accomplished that through being as present and honest with ourselves as individuals in our roles as possible. Our director, Michael Michetti, encouraged us to approach the play with our modern and current sensibilities and shy away from any kind of “classical, Shavian ‘acting'”. The result is, I think, a 124-year-old play that feels familiar and rings true to a 2017 audience.
RQM: What's next for you either at ANW or elsewhere in the world?
ES: I'm looking forward to being a part of the spring season at A Noise Within and continuing my work in commercials, film, and television. There are exciting things in the works—to be revealed soon!