In Part One of a series of interviews with the Director and cast of Kensington Arts Theatre’s The Laramie Project, meet Susan S. Porter.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you perform before on local stages?
My name is Susan S. Porter. For the past 15 years I’ve been performing at many different theatres in the Baltimore/Washington area including: Toby’s Dinner Theatre, outdoors for Chesapeake Shakespeare plus a tour with Baltimore public schools, Iron Crow Theatre, Spotlighters, Cockpit in the Court, Colonial Players, Red Branch Theatre, the Capital Fringe Festival, to name a few.
Why did you want to be part of the cast of KAT’s The Laramie Project?
I was pleased to see that KAT was taking on this important, meaningful work. At the heart of The Laramie Project is a desire to promote conversation, understanding, and greater compassion among all people. I wanted to be a part of this production to lend my voice – my passion – for reaching out to others to help this dialogue continue.
Who do you play in the show and how do you relate to your character?
As an ensemble piece, we all play many characters. My role that resonates with me the most is Marge Murray, a long-time resident of Laramie who knows most of the people in town. I’d like to think that we are both no nonsense women who tell it like it is – what you see is what you get. Marge is a good person – loves her family, is hard-working, honest, caring. Yet I also see misperceptions in her attitudes about people who are different in her community. She claims that “Laramie is Live and Let Live” but that is not really true (no spoiler alert here – I won’t tell you what else she says right before that – come see it!) What she expresses – this misunderstanding – is such a common refrain in this country: “I’m not prejudice, but…” The more we understand how people really feel about issues and why, the greater chance we have of learning how to respect each other.
How much did you know about Matthew Shepard and what took place on October 6, 1998, and what has been the most interesting thing you have learned about him and that event since you started working on this production?
I only knew the basic facts of the story at the time and then later heard about The Laramie Project. I didn’t realize until I’d read it several years afterwards that the town itself became so involved. Working on it now as a member of the cast has helped me see a greater human level to this story – as Marge says, “…two absolutely human beings cause so much grief for so many people.” A gentle reminder that we’re all connected.
What have been some of the challenges you have had during rehearsals and how did Director John Nunemaker help you to resolve them and to mold your performance.
Finding a separate voice for every character has been my biggest challenge. John has helped by saying very little (at least so far!) I’m grateful that he’s been giving us the space and encouragement to explore different choices. He also started our process with very meaningful, productive table work where we got to know each other and examine many different aspects of the play and characters. The KAT crew that John as assembled for this production has also been enormously helpful.
What has impresses you most about your fellow cast members?
How insightful, hardworking, and professional everyone is! Add kind to that – everyone has been open and giving.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing you perform in The Laramie Project?
I re-read Laramie to prepare for the audition. I was impressed – and saddened – by how relevant this conversation is still. We have made some great strides in this country with LGBT rights, but we have a long way to go. Reporter Kerry Drake, one of my other characters, states, “People will always remember Matthew Shepard, and he will always be a symbol of searching for the best in us … searching for tolerance.” That is my message – not only search for tolerance, but practice it every moment of every day. I want the audience to be moved to find a way to continue the conversation. Test your assumptions about what you think you know to be true about other people; stop listening to barking heads in the media; reach out to one other person who you would not normally have contact with and have a conversation with them. OK, I’ll stop there. I’m preaching and Marge wouldn’t approve.
The Laramie Project plays from February 5-20, 2016 at Kensington Arts Theatre – performing at The Kensington Town Hall – 3710 Mitchell Street in Kensington, MD. For tickets call the box office at (206) 888-6642, or purchase them online.
Interviews With the Cast and Director of Kensington Arts Theatre’s ‘The Laramie Project’: Part 2: Zoe Bulitt.