At just 30 years old, multihyphenate Sara Porkalob has more items on her résumé than most people a decade her senior. Known best for writing and performing the award-winning solo show “Dragon Lady” — a work that grew iteratively from a monologue about her Filipino grandmother’s gangster past and was performed at three local theaters between 2016 and 2017 — Porkalob also sings, directs and co-founded DeConstruct, an online journal of intersectional-performance critique.
This summer, Porkalob’s calendar is once again full. In addition to working on “Dragon Baby,” the third installment of her Dragon Cycle series, Porkalob’s latest show, “7th and Jackson” opened earlier this month at Café Nordo, the immersive dinner theater in Pioneer Square. Written and directed by Porkalob, the show spans a period of 30 years in the lives of three high-school friends growing up in Seattle’s International District.
We snagged a call with the young actor/playwright/director/singer to learn more about “7th and Jackson,” her approach to work, and her unabashed devotion to challenging the status quo in the theater community. (This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
What can you reveal about “7th and Jackson”? What is the show about?
It largely takes place in the 1940s, but there are flashbacks all the way to the 1930s and the “present day” is happening in 1961. When you walk into the club it’s the opening night of this new club called 7th and Jackson.
The political alignment of America and our relationship to the world drastically changed in the 1940s. Growing up, when I was learning about World War II through history classes and also through art — music, plays, literature — a lot of the narrative that I saw focused primarily on white people and/or Japanese Americans and what happened to them here on the West Coast after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I wanted to create a narrative that was bodied by historical reality but also filled a hole in what I saw as World War II narratives around communities of color who are Americans as well.
So at the heart of this play, you have three girls. One is Filipino American, one is Korean Chinese American, and one is a black American. The play follows them from childhood through their mid-30s as they see the world around them change, and it looks at what that did to them and their friendship.
You are probably best known for your solo show “Dragon Lady,” which you wrote and performed. You wrote and directed “7th and Jackson” but you aren’t performing. Can you talk about shifting between these various roles (actor, director, writer)?
In 2012 when I graduated, I realized that so much of my education had encouraged me to specialize in one area, but I knew that wasn’t the type of career that I wanted. I wanted to do everything and I was told that I couldn’t, so I said, “I’m going to show them that I can.” It started my junior year when they said, “You can’t do more than two senior projects” and I was like: “I’m going to do six; it’s my education isn’t it?”
Once upon a time, it was hard, but now, seven years later, I can say that I have a skill set that sets me apart from my peers. I’m simultaneously all of the things that I am all of the time, which has diversified my understanding, my process in the room, my objectives. I love it. I’m never not an actor, I’m never not a director, and I’m never not a playwright.
Tell me about the cast of “7th and Jackson.”
They are SO great. This was the first time I’ve implemented a new way of working in the room, and it was incredible.
About a year ago I met someone who really changed and deepened my perspective, especially around disability and accessibility. Now that I’m 30 I’m thinking about the type of leadership and the type of culture that I want in rooms that I’m a part of. When we started rehearsing we did this thing called “the check in” where we would go around the table and talk about our accessibility needs and our accessibility reality. Access needs pertain specifically to your needs as a physically able or disabled person and then your reality is where you’re coming from emotionally that day.
There’s this culture that exists within theater where you have to leave your [baggage] at the door in order for the work in the room to be the best that it can be, and while I believe that there are kernels of that that are true, I believe that it unconsciously perpetuates an overvaluing of the work and decenters people in the work. There is no show that is more important than the emotional and physical well-being of my artists.
After this show, what’s next for you?
I’m going to be working out of town next year for a long time. I can’t announce it officially, but I will be traveling all over the country. Something I can announce is that Café Nordo will be producing a new show that I wrote and will direct called “The Angel in the House.” It is completely different from everything I’m known for, I’m so excited! It’s a Victorian lesbian thriller. There will be murder and revenge and the challenging of Victorian femininity.
“7th and Jackson” by Sara Porkalob. Through Aug. 11; Café Nordo, 109 S. Main St., Seattle; $79 (includes prix fixe menu); 206-209-2002, cafenordo.com