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Hometown Bremerton, Wash.
Personal Motto “Fuck white supremacy, get money.”
Happy Place Food in my face
Unlikely Influence Old-school Sesame Street
Song on Repeat “Distance” by Emily King
Sara Porkalob loves confrontation.
The writer/director/performer tells me so as we chat about the local theatre scene, lighting up as she says it. Her delight isn’t only in being so un-Seattle (Porkalob was raised largely in Bremerton); it’s also because the city’s infamous politeness impedes its progress, and she’s over it. When it comes to moving the needle on equity and intersectionality in Seattle theatre, Porkalob isn’t afraid to be completely honest: “Transparency, people—let’s just fucking do it!”
The fierce, buoyant and versatile Porkalob has been all over Seattle stages, from Godspell at Taproot Theatre and Emma at Book-It Repertory Theatre to Pump Boys and Dinettes at Village Theatre and To Savor Tomorrow at Café Nordo. But she didn’t expect to perform at all when she graduated from the theatre program at Cornish four years ago. “I was like, fuck theatre!” she says. “I didn’t realize I was experiencing emotional and mental trauma from art school. I had internalized these elitist ideas about what art should be and my place in it.”
During her junior year Porkalob discovered theatre theory and semiotics, and started acquiring the vocabulary to articulate the institutional racism she experienced. Soon after, she began building a solo performance about her Filipino grandmother, Dragon Lady. At first she was just telling stories about her grandmother’s life before burlesque shows; but then 15 minutes of material grew into a 45-minute solo with multiple characters, roles skillfully switched with a tilt of the head, a purse of the lips. A two-hour version ran at Theatre off Jackson in 2016—a version her grandmother finally saw. “That’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Porkalob says.
This month, a full-scale, dinner-theatre version of the show, Madame Dragon’s 60th Birthday Party, opens at Café Nordo. But more difficult still is her new solo show-in-progress Dragon Baby, opening at the 2017 Seattle Fringe Festival. The show shifts the spotlight to Porkalob’s relationship with her own mother—realizing as a kid that their family was poor; their years on a “gay hippie commune” in Anchorage; working her ass off throughout college to support herself and her mom, including a long stint as a phone sex operator.
Porkalob’s radical transparency applies both on stage and off. She writes for DeConstruct, an intersectional performance critique blog that she helped found, and is growing The Demo Site, a company she created with fellow theatre artists Katherine Jett and Colleen Carey to deconstruct heretofore-sacrosanct theatre classics. She’s also got her eye on a master’s degree in intersectional gender studies in Sweden—no American university offers one.
“I want to keep making the work I make, but I want to change the pedagogy,” she says.