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Why a Seattle artist had to channel her inner dragon lady

Sara Porkalob, right, and her grandmother, the inspiration for Porkalob's one-woman show Dragon Lady
Dangerpants Photography, courtesy Sara Porkalob
Sara Porkalob, right, and her grandmother, the inspiration for Porkalob's one-woman show Dragon Lady

When Seattle theater artist Sara Porkalob was a kid, her family didn’t have much money.

But they did have unconditional love for the little girl who lived to entertain them.

“Being the only baby in the house,” Porkalob recalls, “I was given attention and affirmations whenever I did anything performative.”

Porkalob’s extended Filipino/Chinese/Hawaiian family loved to cook, sing and laugh. Porkalob was never shy about joining in.

As she got older, Porkalob realized the power of storytelling and theater to bring people together, both to entertain, but also to make them think about the world around them.

“I was like, I’m really good at it, why don’t I just do it and have people pay me?” she laughs.

But building a theater career wasn’t that easy.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Sara Porkalob in her Queen Anne apartment", "fid": "132610", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201701/img_1059__1_.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW photo/Marcie Sillman"}]]Cornish College of the Arts awarded her a scholarship and Porkalob headed to Seattle with big dreams. But when she began to audition for shows, she discovered how limited options were for Asian-American women.

“I was like, wow! The roles were not available to me,” she says.

So, in her senior year at Cornish, Porkalob began to develop her own one-woman show.

“It’s the story of my grandmother’s past in the Philippines as a gangster and a nightclub singer.”

Porkalob transforms herself into her grandmother, her mother and her aunts, along with other characters, to tell the story of an outspoken immigrant to America.

“Dragon Lady” has evolved since Porkalob graduated from Cornish in 2012. She continues to perform it, in rotation with other acting, singing and directing gigs. The more critical acclaim she’s received for the solo show, the more opportunities she’s had in other local theaters. Porkalob now supports herself as a fulltime artist.

Porkalob is pleased with her career trajectory, but she has her sights set beyond performance.

“I’ve only ever lived in Seattle, as an artist making art,” she says. “I know in my heart of hearts I want more.”

Porkalob is contemplating graduate school, in a field called intersectional gender studies. “I want to learn more about the intersection of class, gender and race, because it matters to me as a person.”

And it matters to Porkalob as an artist. She hopes to use what she learns to ease the journey for the young women who want to follow in her footsteps.

Porkalob will perform a new version of her one-woman show, “Madame Dragon’s 60th Birthday Bash” at Seattle’s Café Nordo, January 12-22.