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Sara Porkalob is heading to Broadway, but first she says goodbye to Seattle

Sara Porkalob, a Filipina woman, stands in the center of a bronze-colored backdrop. She is wearing a black blouse with her hair up held with what looks like a chopstick. One hand is on her side and the other she is touching her lip maybe fixing some lipstick.
Robert Wade
Courtesy of Sara Porkalob
Sara Porkalob portrays her grandmother and mother in "Dragon Lady" and "Dragon Mama," both one-woman musicals.

One of the Northwest’s very own is set to make her Broadway debut this spring.

Sara Porkalob grew up in Bremerton in what she calls “a hella Filipino” family. Before she leaves for the East Coast, Porkalob will make one last run of her one-woman show at Cafe Nordo.

There are a couple of things to know about Porkalob. The first is how important karaoke has been in her life.

"When you grow up Filipino, you grow up with people who love to sing. Karaoke just, like, starts at any gathering," Porkalob said. "If you don't have a machine, somebody's singing."

Not only is it the foundation of her love of performing, but it also played a role in both her grandmother's and mother’s lives, which she recounts in her trilogy “Dragon Cycle.” The last play, which has yet to premiere, will be about Porkalob herself.

That leads to the second thing you should know about Porkalob: She is unapologetically confident.

"My shows are f—ing awesome. Nobody has anything like what I've made with these shows," Porkalob said.

And she’s probably right. The first play of the trilogy is “Dragon Lady.” It tells the story of Maria Porkalob Sr.'s former life in the Philippines involving gangs, cabaret and her eventual move to America with Sara’s mother. When Sara came along, there were three generations living under one roof.

In "Dragon Mama," Porkalob tells the story of how her mother headed for Alaska to work. It was in Alaska where she was able to explore her queer identity and met Tina, Sara’s other mom.

"The 'Dragon Cycle' is a trilogy of matrilineal musical tragedies about my Filipino American family fighting to survive, thrive, love and kick ass in white America," Porkalob said.

As much as Porkalob sees herself as an artist, she also embraces herself as an activist. It was her experience at Cornish College of the Arts that made her realize just how white the theater community could be. Porkalob recalls a sophomore capstone she was a part of that made her uncomfortable.

"I was playing an older Japanese woman who, like, half her lines were racist, and the only Black actor in my cast was written as the homeless Black man on the corner who did drugs," Porkalob said. "When I spoke to my department head about removing myself from that project because it didn't feel right, he told me that working with that director was going to be a good connection for me."

On top of that, Porkalob struggled financially. She was forced to take a year off because of financial hardship, which she said drove her into a bout of depression. But it was during that time that Porkalob developed a new confidence and conviction to pursue her dream of performing.

"Actually, I'm not just going to do this because I'm good at it, I'm going to do this because I have something to say. And the things that I wish I saw, I'm not seeing right now, and I don't want to wait for anybody else to do it," Porkalob said.

The origins of the award-winning "Dragon Cycle" start with an assignment Porkalob had when she was at Cornish.

Porkalob explained the assignment: "You have to stage a family argument. What it means is you need to have at least three characters in the scene. You have to play all of them. You weren't allowed to use any costumes or props."

She chose to reenact a recent argument she had with her mom, two aunts and grandma. Her performance was a success and inspired her to start thinking beyond this one assignment.

"Maybe I should do this," Porkalob said. "And then I just started listening a little bit more closely when we all hung out, and I started going through my Rolodex of all the stories I had heard growing up going to all these parties and family gatherings. And then the rest, the rest was history."

Technically, history that is still in the making. The first show in the trilogy, “Dragon Lady,” premiered in 2017 and won three Gregory Awards, including Outstanding Actress in a Musical. The sequel, “Dragon Mama,” made its debut at the American Repertory Theater, which is now commissioning the last installment of the trilogy, “Dragon Baby.”

"People see 'Dragon Lady,' and they think it's an immigration story. They see 'Dragon Mom,' and their minds are blown. Just wait until they see 'Dragon Baby.' It's a beast," Porkalob said.

Porkalob will make her Broadway debut as Edward Rutledge in the American Repertory Theater’s revival of “1776.” A last run of the "Dragon Cycle" plays will be put on at Cafe Nordo. However, performances will not be livestreamed. But in her ever-confident manner, Porkalob says not to worry.

"They'll be able to catch the trilogy in a couple of years and a TV adaptation."

The "Dragon Cycle" runs through the first week of March, and tickets are available on the Cafe Nordo website.

Grace Madigan covers arts and culture with a focus on how people express themselves and connect to their communities through art, music, media, food, and sport.