Dragon Lady is Comin' To Town: An Interview with Sara Porkalob

By Trish Fontanilla

I know people have mixed feelings about Twitter these days, but if you’re following the right people then it ain’t so bad. Case in point: theater companies. A few weeks ago I saw The A.R.T (American Repertory Theater) tweet:

WHAT? Why hadn’t I heard of this show before? Will actual Filipinos be playing the characters? The last question was a gut response in reaction to some recent conversations I’ve had around minority actors. More specifically, the discussions were about Evita being produced without a Latinx cast here in New England, and the Daily Beast piece about the movie ‘Annihilation’ and Hollywood’s erasure of Asians. So as you can imagine, I was stoked to learn more about the woman behind Dragon Lady, Sara Porkalob. Straight from her bio, “Sara Porkalob is an award-winning solo performer, director, and arts activist recognized on City Art’s 2017 Future List and has recently finished her term as Intiman Theatre’s 2017 Co-Curator. She is a co-founder of DeConstruct, an online journal of intersectional performance critique.”

Something I totally missed as I was feverishly scrolling through her blog and her performance list is that she’s based in Seattle. Well, while Sara isn’t a BOSFilipino, she is a boss Filipino and you need to catch her while she’s in town performing her latest show Dragon Lady at The A.R.T (OBERON) March 22nd - 24th.

And thank you to Sara for taking some time to chat with me about her past work, inspiration, and how we can make theater more inclusive.

 Dragon Lady picture provided by Sara Porkalob

Dragon Lady picture provided by Sara Porkalob

Do you remember a particular moment growing up that inspired you to be a performer?

Sara: I was born a performer! My mother says I came out of her vaginal canal performing and I am inclined to believe her.

I loved going through your performance list and seeing you playing characters that aren’t traditionally cast with Asians or POCs (people of color). What do you think the theater community can improve upon or do to be more inclusive?

Sara:

  1. Hire POC in all areas, especially in positions of power.

  2. Allocate resources, infrastructure, and decision-making to POC.

  3. Make EDI (Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) Training mandatory for all Trustees and employees. Implement this ideology into the mission, vision, and programming.

  4. Create systems of accountability and actionable quarterly objectives.

  5. Engage with the community outside of your audience demographic, maintain these relationships and deepen them through community programming curated BY them, FOR them.

Theatres can do more, but I charge a consultant fee for those :)

Did you find that the more you studied acting, the more you were driven to be an activist? Or were you always engaged in conversations and work around social change?

Sara: I’m privileged to have been raised by two women who value social change and justice. Our household was talking about intersectional activism before they became buzzwords. The more I studied acting, the more I realized how problematic and white American theatre and arts education was. It was this disparity that pushed me to become an advocate and activist within the arts community.

 Dragon Lady picture provided by Sara Porkalob

Dragon Lady picture provided by Sara Porkalob

Reading through your blog post “Institutional Racism Made Me a Better Artist,” we get to hear a little bit about the early inspiration for Dragon Lady, which is your family. What has been their response to the show and your other work?

Sara:
In this order:

  1. Disbelief and suspicion

  2. Incredulity and laughter

  3. Tears and catharsis

  4. Anger and healing

  5. Pride and joy

  6. Sharing MORE stories of the past, making sure I know all the details.

My family is my rock. They keep me humble. They are a constant reminder of where I come from and why I should never forget that. They love my work and think I’m the best of my peer group, but they could be biased. Or not. ;)

Did Dragon Lady always have music? What drove you to make it a full musical?

Sara: Dragon Lady has always had music. Transitioning to a musical made sense but required more capital and institutional support. The first two years of performing it, I had musical tracks and sang covers of popular songs that had special significance for the story. The third year, I had enough resources and support to commission a composer to create original music, plus create covers of the past songs. My grandmother was a singer in the Philippines. All of the women in my family are singers and the men are musicians. Music is in my blood. It wouldn’t be a Porkalob show without music.

Who / what (else) inspires you?

Sara: My entire family. Black women. Children. Asian Grandmas.

 Dragon Lady poster provided by Sara Porkalob

Dragon Lady poster provided by Sara Porkalob

Performing can be physically and emotionally draining, are there any activities you like to do to recharge?

Sara: I eat Korean, or Filipino, or Japanese food. I also enjoy a hot shower, with a cold beer, and then some good ol’ marijuana after. I also love cats and enjoy relaxing with mine because she’s sassy and silly and doesn’t bore me with small talk.

How else can our community here in Boston support you (besides attending your show)?

Sara: GET MORE BROWN AND BLACK PEOPLE OUT IN THE AUDIENCE!!! That’s the dream, as many POC as I can get, I’d love for them to see this show.

One last question, because I read somewhere that your happy place is “food in my face,” so naturally, I had to ask... what’s your favorite food? Favorite Filipino dish?

Sara: Korean food allll the wayyyyy. Sorry, Filipino ancestors! Fave Filipino dish? Sinigang, all the way. With some patis and hot rice, yesssssss.

 Dragon Lady picture provided by Sara Porkalob

Dragon Lady picture provided by Sara Porkalob

Thanks again to Sara Porkalob for being amazing, and taking time to do this interview.

If you don’t have tickets to her show Dragon Lady, playing over at OBERON in Cambridge, get your tickets now! The show is running for 3 nights at 7:30PM, March 22nd - 24th, with one 2PM matinee on March 24th: https://americanrepertorytheater.org/events/show/dragon-lady


We’re always looking for BOSFilipinos blog writers / subjects! If you’d like to contribute or have a suggestions, feel free to send us a note: info@bosfilipinos.com.