The playwright and performer of Dragon Lady and Dragon Mama says she couldn't find narratives like hers in the playwriting canon. So she wrote her own.
By Samantha Neville '19
Sara Porkalob’s captivating stage presence is visible even in photographs. In one picture, she is standing in front of shimmering red lights in an otherwise pitch-black background. Porkalob’s black clothes fade into the enveloping darkness, leaving her face and a poised hand as the focal point. She holds your gaze and makes eye contact as if she sees you. The effect is that you can’t look away.
You can’t look away from her long list of accomplishments either. Among them: three 2018 Gregory Awards for: Outstanding Sound/Music Design, Outstanding Actress in a Musical and Outstanding Musical Production. That makes Porkalob a creative force. She describes herself as an artist, activist and “proud 2nd generation Filipinx American.” And her work plays this out. “Everything that I do always includes elements of storytelling and activism,” Porkalob said in an interview.
“Everything” looks like this: cultivating diversity in her casts and working with the mayor of Seattle (where Porkalob is based) to create policy regarding racial equity.
Porkalob wrote and will perform in the Dragon Cycle plays – Dragon Lady and Dragon Mama. These shows will be performed in repertory March 20-April 6 at OBERON. Dragon Lady, which was performed at OBERON in 2018, opens on March 20. Dragon Mama opens March 28. She will also be the featured artist for an ArtsBites food and discussion series for undergraduates 12-1 p.m. Tuesday, April 2 at the Office for the Arts. (The luncheon is free to undergraduates, but RSVP required; sign up here.)
In Dragon Lady, Porkalob plays 36 characters, and Dragon Mama is a one-woman show. Porkalob will also write a third play in the cycle, Dragon Baby. The plays are based on family stories she collected over the years and span generations. For example, one of the many characters Porkalob plays in Dragon Lady is her grandmother, on her 60th birthday, recounting her gangster past.
“She talks to the audience as if they were her favorite grandchild, a.k.a, me,” Porkalob said.
College Nights at OBERON, with $15 tickets for students, will take place Tuesday, April 2 for Dragon Lady and Wednesday, April 3 Dragon Mama. The tickets include mingling and dancing after the show. Use code Student15 to access $15 tickets
Her real grandmother makes a cameo in the show as well.
“I hope that after seeing my work, people feel a deeper desire, connection, understanding of their own chosen families,” Porkalob said.
Although she was drawing on personal history, Porkalob likened writing the scripts for these plays to creating something from scratch.
“All of the source material that was part of my education looked nothing like me, my family or my community,” Porkalob said. “It didn’t feel right moving into a professional career of storytelling to not have experienced narratives that resembled mine or the people that I came from.”
Writing something unlike anything Porkalob had been exposed to was a challenging experience. At first it was daunting, but soon became “an exciting part of the process.” “I learned that I am unstoppable, and that my dreams can never be too big,” Prokalob said.
Fear is an opportunity, not a setback, she said by way of offering advice. “Always ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing, and who is it for,” Porkalob said.