Sara Porkalob has taken Seattle by storm — as a playwright, director, actor, singer, storyteller, leader and curator, all through an activist lens.
Today, she heads for the East Coast where she’ll manifest her Broadway dreams, performing in the revival of 1776 (a co-production of American Repertory Theater and the Roundabout Theatre Company) and work on Dragon Baby, the third in her Dragon Cycle.
NWT talked with Porkalob as she prepared for her journey, planned in pre-pandemic times and now arriving at last. Read NWT’s 2019 interview with Porkalob here.
Interview content is condensed and edited for clarity.
What does it mean to grow into the character of your Grandma?
It just means knowing more about her, my family, and myself. And when you know more, things change. And Dragon Lady is a testament to that change; I’ve written more than 20 drafts of this play and performed about 20 iterations since 2012. Just as my Grandma is getting older and changing, I am as well. As are all of us.
How do you feel about universality in storytelling?
I’m meh about the word “universality” because people use it too often. What does it actually mean, and what does that word erase? Everything is subjective and for anyone to claim that a story is universal can be, I think, lazy and incorrect; how do YOU know that a story is universal? Do you know everyone in the world and can affirm that everyone would agree? I can’t. So, I don’t use that word. I don’t ever try to make a story “universal” because I know that I can’t. I try to tell my truth, and I try to be specific. When other people connect to the truth or specificity of my story, that’s great. When people aim for “universality” they lose specificity and specificity is way more exciting and dynamic to me.
What are you learning anew about American history in preparing for 1776?
So many things! So many incredible things about resilience, creativity, justice. Wherever white supremacy is, there are so many stories about survival, community, healing, and justice even while it feels like there isn’t, right? Because many of us learn what they teach us in school, which is the colonizer’s history and a watered-down, if not outright false, narrative about Indigenous, Black, and Brown folks. There are many sides to history and if we look hard enough, we can find incredible things.
[How does your portrayal of a White male founding father in ‘1776’ transform that historical role?]
I don’t know! I won’t really know until I get in the room with my cast and team. What I can say is: I am very excited to explore this character and make it my own.
I recently read a New York Times piece called “Writing a Trauma Play Makes Me Want to Dry Heave.” How do you keep tough subject matter from creeping toward trauma play?
I’m sure some people would come to my shows and be like, “This is a trauma play,” and people sitting right next to them would be like, “No it isn’t!” and they can both be right. As I mentioned before, I try to focus on truth telling and specificity, and the fact is, there’s a lot of different kinds of trauma in my stories so I have to include that. It’s integral. But it’s not the ONLY thing my plays are about. In fact, trauma is only one variable and it’s not even the most important variable. I like to laugh while writing and acting in my shows, so jokes are really the most important variable of my work. Like yeah, I might be writing trauma plays but they’re also really fucking funny.
On the family members at the heart of the Dragon Cycle —
How’s your Grandma? She’s getting older, but still as rambunctious as always. She’s ready to get Dragon Lady to New York, and I am too.
How’s the rest of the family, who also appear prominently in your plays? Oh, life is hard. We’re in a pandemic. White America is tough. And anxiety and depression are real. I think it’s safe to say that we’re all dealing, in our own ways, and trying to remember to take care of ourselves.
What role does Tina play in your (or your mom’s) life now? She’s my mom, forever and always. And while she and my mom aren’t together anymore, we’re still a family. Nothing can change that.
Bonus Round: Quickie Q&A
What’s your joy right now? The gym. My partners. My cat. Food. Sunny days in Seattle.
Does anything scare you about going to Broadway? Nah. It’s just Broadway.
Sara Porkalob will play Edward Rutledge in the revival of 1776, which runs 5/15-7/24 at American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge (see info here); it then moves to the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York for its Broadway run beginning in Fall 2022 (see info here), and begins a national tour thereafter.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.