Sunday, October 30, 2016

Spotlight On...Chana Porter

Name: Chana Porter

Hometown: Columbia, Maryland, Brooklyn since 2008 (and a little bit of Queens)

Education: MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, MA in Playwriting from University of Exeter, UK. I spent my undergrad traipsing around the apple orchards of Hampshire College.

Why theater?: Theater is liminal space, the in-between. It’s the world of the imagination, the world of the spirit. As an audience we go on quests together. Discoveries are made, challenges issued and accepted. You can put anything in a play—a space of the possible. I think we need that more than ever.

Tell us about Phantasmagoria; or, Let Us Seek Death!: Teenage Mary Shelley finds herself in an unending party at Lord Byron’s villa in Geneva, a little bored, a little drunk, but stirred by being surrounded with intellectuals and poets. On a pause between romantic poetry and group sex, Byron creates a contest: Let’s all write our own ghost stories! Mary begins to write a story about a young man who makes a beautiful, perfect man from bits of corpses. As Mary brings her story to life, the Frankenstein story takes over the world of the play. Horror ensues.

What inspired you to write Phantasmagoria; or, Let Us Seek Death!?: Randy, our wonderful director, had the idea to swirl Mary Shelley’s wild life with the original Frankenstein text. Once I started reading about Mary and her circle, I was hooked. It’s such fascinating material.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love challenging, messy, beautiful, heart-opening, fearless theater. I would much rather be sincere than be clever. I want to be very serious and always go for the joke. I consider myself standing on the shoulders of Yiddish theater traditions, where you could have a really silly, punny joke, and then a dramatic monologue, and then a song, and then a ghost filled dream sequence. Theater is large! No more couches, no more kitchen sinks. I’m very inspired by the weird, wild work at New Georges, and I’m happy to recently be a New Georges affiliated artist. This winter I’ll have my first workshop at Playwrights Horizons, another major space of artistic discovery for me. My play Leap and the Net Will Appear will be directed by Tara Ahmadinejad, with music composed by Andrew Lynch, both artists I’ve long admired.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I continue to be astonished and delighted by the work coming out of SoHo Rep. That would be a dream place to work. I’m likewise emboldened by Ars Nova and their commitment to supporting the process of creating new work, and seeing it through into production.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I haven’t had time to see much of anything the past month, but I’ve heard the Underground Railroad Game at Ars Nova is amazing. Everyone go see it!

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Maria Dizzia would do an excellent job playing me. I love her warm dryness. I also have a speech impediment (I’m a person who stutters) and I think she could approach that with a light touch. Or, you know, find an excellent actor who stutters to play me. (Any excellent actors who stutter, come at me @PorterChana ! I want to know you and work with you.) Let’s call the movie of my life "Once More, With Feeling."

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I would love to learn Russian, go back in time, and watch original Chekov. Oh! And Caryl Churchill from the ‘70s.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: I don’t believe in guilt but I do believe in pleasure for its own sake. I watch a lot of Steven Universe while eating ice cream. Actually, I take that back! Younger is my guilty pleasure. You caught me.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: I’m also a science fiction author, but I think if I hadn’t leap fully into the writing life a decade ago, I might be working with wild animals. I can imagine myself Jane Goodall-ing. But that’s probably very much a fantasy version of myself.  I like to imagine myself as that person, but clearly I’m not. I’m living in an apartment in Brooklyn with lots of stuffed animals instead.

What’s up next?: Leap and the Net Will Appear will be workshopped a Playwrights Horizons New PlayLab. It’s an epic fierce comedy about a woman who wants to be a lion.

For more on Chana, visit