The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Leslie Sophia Pérez: Learning from the DePaul classroom to the Steppenwolf stage

Joel Moorman
This photo provided by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater shows the cast of Steppenwolf’s world premiere of “a home what howls (or the house what was ravine)” includes, from left to right, Eddie Torres, Isabel Quintero, Leslie Sophia Pérez, Charín Álvarez and ensemble member Tim Hopper.

Leslie Sophia Pérez remembers the beginning of her acting career with fondness. Mostly, though, she happily remembers the mooing. 

Years into her Catholic grammar school’s theater program, she finally landed her starring role in fourth grade: the cow in an adaptation of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” She remembers being onstage next to Jack every night, crafting a character out of the moos she was given and mooing her heart out.

“That’s the only line I had, just ‘moo,’” Pérez said. “I made sure every line was different and that I had a backstory, a character laugh, everything.”

Pérez is gearing up for her next big role after her nostalgic days of elementary school stardom. This time though, she’s the lead in Steppenwolf Theatre’s upcoming production of “a home what howls (or the house what was ravine),” opening Feb. 7.

Pérez plays Soledad Vargas, a young Mexican American woman fighting for her family’s right to live on their land amid displaced communities and city politics. 

“This show has been very humbling, to say the least, because it’s been a while since I’ve done theater,” Pérez said. “It feels good to be in this environment again. I’m the youngest one in the cast so everybody I’m working with has years of experience, every day feels like one big class.”

From left to right, Leslie Sophia Pérez and Isabel Quintero rehearse for Steppenwolf Theatre’s world premiere of “a home what howls (or the hoUse what was ravine).” (Joel Moorman)

Pérez graduated from The Theatre School (TTS) in June 2023. She knew DePaul’s acting program produced well-known alumni — her classmates told her so — but none of that mattered to her. Joe Keery, Gillian Anderson, John C. Reilly and David Dastmalchian were names that littered the Letterboxd diaries of film students. They did not hold weight in her idea of personal success. 

The only aspect she truly cared about for her future was the opportunity to learn — not only as a student in the classroom but as a professional, putting her skills to work post-graduation. 

“My classmates would tell me that we were the best conservatory in the country but that didn’t necessarily matter to me,” Pérez said. “I wanted a school that was going to actually help me in the long run and I think DePaul really helped me face my biggest challenge, which was me, which was my head.” 

A year into her time at TTS, Pérez landed a role in Steppenwolf’s production of “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.” The play was the world premiere adaptation of Erika L. Sánchez’s novel and sold out before its opening performance Feb. 26, 2020. 

Sandra Marquez, who directed the original production of “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter,” remembers Pérez for her artistic instinct both in the audition room and onstage.

“One of the things that stood out when I was working with [Pérez] was that she constantly feels comfortable sharing ideas and thoughts about how something can be done,” Marquez said. “Not all actors can see the specificity of their own work, let alone the big picture, and she is already able to do both.”

Two weeks into the show’s run, Covid-19 hit.

“It felt like such a huge, dark cloud because when the show got shut down, it was quick,” Pérez said. “The next day, I took everything from my dressing room and went back home, not to my apartment, but home to quarantine with my family.”

Pérez had already taken a gap year to be part of “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter,” but in the middle of a global pandemic and without her show, she felt discouraged. 

“I’m a huge believer that everything happens for a reason,” Pérez said. “When [Covid-19] was going on, I think the most important thing I realized is that I can’t give up on myself. You have to have a really tough mind for this industry and I needed to feel that loss to become mentally stronger than I was.”

Three years later, “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” found a new life at the Seattle Rep Theater. Determined not to take another gap year, she found a way to finish her degree online while performing in a show on the West Coast. 

“I didn’t want the same crossroads where I had to choose between school and a show,” Pérez said. “I definitely had to fight for this opportunity in meetings with my school’s administration and faculty members. I had to figure out the plans to make it work because no one was going to do it for me. When I was given the green light, all I could think was ‘thank God.’”

From left to right, Ensemble member Tim Hopper, director Laura Alcalá Baker and Leslie Sophia Pérez rehearse for Steppenwolf Theatre’s world premiere of “a home what howls (or the hoUse what was ravine).” (Joel Moorman)

Since starting her career, Pérez has shot multiple commercials, booked her first episode of “Chicago P. D.,” been in various stage productions, and worked on TV show pilot “Computer School” with comedian Tim Robinson. 

“I’m excited for the trajectory of Leslie’s career and what she ends up doing, whatever that winds up being,” Marquez said. “A lot of times in American culture, success means a TV show, but that’s such a limited view for an artist. I think a successful artist is one who is able to find people they can create with and enjoy that process, enjoy the actual artistic spark.”

Director Laura Alcalá Baker previously worked with Pérez during a short play festival before the pandemic and thought of her when casting the Steppenwolf show. 

“Overtime, you change as a person, you change as a creative,” Alcalá Baker said. “Getting to know her now, I can see how much growth has happened, how much her process has shifted, and how mine has as well. I can see she is learning constantly but knows herself as an artist in a way that gives her a unique viewpoint stepping into the [play’s] text.”

Performances of “a home what howls (or the house what was ravine)” run through March 2. Tickets begin at $20 for public performances.

“I think back to any performance I’ve ever given, every opening night I’ve ever done, and it just makes sense to me,” Pérez said. “I love telling stories. I love being able to take a character and have a little bit of me within the role. I love being able to portray a story of pain, love and laughter. Being able to entertain is such a fulfilling gift and I think that’s why I’m still doing it.”

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