Stories from Seattle: Playwright and Performer Sara Porkalob on Hope, Anger, and Her Missed Broadway Opportunity
By Sara Porkalob
March 20, 2020
"Just like that, my entire community lost their jobs."
This is part of a series of personal essays we’re calling Stories from Seattle, contributed by our community and designed to show how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting the lives of Seattleites. Want to share your story, coping mechanisms, wildest ideas? We’d love to hear. Please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
On April 5, I was planning to leave Seattle for an indefinite amount of time. My Broadway contract listed an end date of July 2021, but the whims of commercial theater could mean closing sooner or lasting (terrifyingly) forever a la Phantom of the Opera. Whatever, I was down for anything and ready for new horizons. I’ve spent the last eight years trying to figure out how to honor and give back to my family and community while making art on my own damn terms. At 30 years old, I’d booked my first Broadway gig without an agent and got to choose what role I played? This felt like justice, and so on-brand. The director had seen me play 32 different characters with nary a costume change in my solo show Dragon Lady and invited me to join the cast of a political Broadway revival, set to tour during election year and debut on Broadway around the inauguration. She pitched her concept and gave me the script; I chose my role and signed 15 months’ worth of contracts.
On March 11, the day before my 31st birthday (Pisces sun, Taurus Moon, Sag rising bb), gatherings of more than 250 people were banned in Washington state, and smaller gatherings had strict new regulations. “Social distancing” they called it, to slow the virus spreading. Just like that, my entire community lost their jobs. On my birthday, Broadway went dark. The bar next to my apartment put plywood in its windows, cheap insurance to deter breaking and entering. My aunt’s anxiety levels got so high she Venmoed me money to go grocery shopping for my grandma because she (my aunt) couldn’t drive without having a panic attack. Showing up at my grandma’s door with toilet paper, a jug of vinegar (if you’re Filipina, you understand) and lots of foodstuffs, the look in her eyes was of happiness—and fear. My fierce Dragon Lady, so ready to kick ass and eat men alive, was afraid.
I’m privileged. I might not go to Broadway because as of now everything is up in the air. But I’ve a partner with a well-paying job who can support me. I have health insurance. I’m able-bodied, mentally well, and working from home is not a difficult task for me. I know that my obsession with working is a symptom of capitalism: who am I if I’m not being productive? I also know that my work is integrally important to my happiness: If I’m not making and sharing stories, I am not myself. It’s a privilege that I enjoy what I do and that my home is a safe space.
And I’m mad. Not everyone is gonna get through this. And while our city is trying, it’s not enough. The Mayor’s Arts Recovery Package includes $100,000 in immediate relief for artists and creative workers, and $1 million to invest in arts and cultural organizations to help mitigate revenue losses. $100,000 in immediate relief is only $500 to 200 people, or $100 to 1000 people. And $1.1 million? When Amazon’s third-quarter revenue in 2019 was $70 billion dollars? Our city has so much fucking wealth within it that this package’s details are just pennies.
On my last birthday, I wished for a Tony Award. This year, I wished for universal healthcare, state income tax, ICE and prison abolishment, tax reform, and better social services. And I’m going to spend my social distancing time thinking about how I can use my privilege and my art to make those things happen.