Find Out Why Everyone Was Talking About Broadway's 1776 This Weekend | Playbill

Broadway News Find Out Why Everyone Was Talking About Broadway's 1776 This Weekend

An incendiary interview with Sara Porkalob led to a mountain of hot takes, but we'll help you decipher the drama.

Crystal Lucas-Perry (center) and the company of 1776 Joan Marcus

If you spent any time on social media over the weekend as a theatre fan (and if you're not a theatre fan, you're not reading this) you probably saw that 1776 became quite the hot topic, specifically company member Sara Porkalob.

The revival of the 1969 Sherman Edwards-Peter Stone musical, which opened October 6 at the American Airlines Theatre, puts a different face on the work recounting the writing of the Declaration of Independence—literally. Roundabout Theatre Company's new production, co-directed by Diane Paulus and Jeffrey L. Page, dispenses with the musical's traditionally all-cis, white, male cast in favor of a racially diverse company made up entirely of women, Trans, and Non-binary people. The choice invites audiences to remember the communities that were largely forgotten by the Founding Fathers as the burgeoning nation was born.

Porkalob, who is Filipino, stars as the pro-slavery South Carolina representative Edward Rutledge, notably leading one of the revival's most daring moments with "Molasses to Rum," an indictment of the hypocrisy of Northern abolitionists who decried the practice of slavery while exploiting it for profit.

But Porkalob's performance is not what set the internet ablaze. In a paywalled interview published by Vulture October 14, Porkalob talked about her performance in the revival and the production itself in frank terms.

In Porkalob's estimation, co-directors Paulus and Page didn't let the production delve deep enough into an analysis of race, gender, and sexuality. "When we were all in the room together, there wasn’t any conversation about how we marry our queer identities with these characters, which is disappointing," Porkalob is quoted as saying. She goes on to recount how non-Black POC members of the company felt harmed by Paulus and Page during the staging of a slave auction in "Molasses to Rum." According to Porkalob, Paulus and Page did seek consent from Black company members for the staging of the scene, but did not consult non-Black POC company members before staging them as slave owners in the moment, which Porkalob describes as the directors "using race as a binary." The critiques of the production and its direction are a kind of commentary not often publicly shared from people inside currently running productions.

She goes on to discuss her reasoning for joining the production, sharing that her reasons were more based in business and career building than in artistry. Discussing what she hopes to get out of the experience, Porkalob says, "[a] Tony nomination, good reviews, and ... more Instagram followers and more community here in New York." Porkalob also shares that she only wants to give 75% of herself to her performance.

Page struck back in a since-deleted Facebook post, writing "[y]ou claim that you want to dismantle white supremacist ideology...I think that you are the very example of the thing that you claim to be most interested in dismantling. You are fake-woke, rotten to the core, and stuck in the matrix; I hope that you get that increased IG following that you so desperately thirst."

Porkalob has since posted several Tweet threads clarifying some of her quotes and apologizing for part of their impact. “I see now sharing [behind-the-scenes] information implicates [the 1776 company]," she writes. "I tried to only speak for myself but there has been an impact on my cast regardless of my intentions. For that I am sorry.” She goes on to characterize her comments as, “not for self gain but to illuminate and name the industry culture that needs to change.”

Porkalob also has asked that commenters not attack her co-directors, tweeting, "[p]lease stop vilifying Jeffrey and Diane. I never once said the rehearsal room or process was toxic. I named specific decisions I didn't agree with, and those decisions were made by them, yes, but that's part of the work; we don't always agree."

Clarifying her comments on only giving 75% of herself to performances, Porkalob shares what she considers as the other 25%. "75% = performing in 1776. 10% = sleeping. 5% = eating. 5% = pooping. 5% = self care, aka not devoting my entire life to being a Broadway star."

Porkalob and Page's comments set off a flurry of debates online, with posts landing on both sides of the issue. Among those decrying Porkalob's comments as unsupportive of her company members was Broadway alum Ashley Blanchet, who tweeted, "Being a person of color does not EXCUSE you from arrogance. Being non-binary doesnt give you a free pass on messing with the livelihood of your peers to get your 15 minutes of fame. Theatre is a team effort. True leaders advocate without throwing their team under the bus."

A Strange Loop Pulitzer and Tony winner Michael R. Jackson voiced his take on Facebook, writing "So I just reread this and my takeaway is that culture is in decline and many artists are reacting to a culture in decline in many ways. One of those ways is to look at art as a weapon to be used to get one’s way or assert ideological supremacy (and not only in theater). I find that troublesome to say the least. But I have been witnessing this tendency since even before the pandemic started. I am not optimistic this trend can be reversed but if it can, I think it starts with at least noticing it and acknowledging that it’s real."

London-based actor Roshani Abbey appreciated Porkalob's candor, tweeting, "NORMALISE Broadway and the West End being 'just a job' and having complaints and not sacrificing 100% of yourself to do it!"

Broadway Motown alum Julius Thomas III also spoke up for Porkalob's 75% comment. "Real talk giving 100% every single night isn’t humanly possible…Or quantifiable for that matter. A skilled actor's 75% looks like 100%. That’s the technique. And it should allow them to do a consistent show eight times a week. And to leave the show with a healthy body."

Playwright and composer Preston Max Allen agreed, sharing that he thinks "a reason many are shaken by the 'Broadway's just a job' candor is the idea Broadway is a 'gift' actors should be grateful-groveling for allows consumers to excuse systemic abuse, and pulling the veil back would reveal too much disturbing shit for them to still 'enjoy the show.'"

Theatre fan and aspiring producer Evan A. LaChance tweeted about racism in the response to Porkalob's comments. "Theatre people spouting nonsense about Sara Porkalob are the equivalent of football fans saying Colin Kaepernick should just shut up and play. We get it. You don’t like when non-white people speak against white institutions and their systems."

Broadway actor and Actors' Equity Association President Kate Shindle wasn't surprised Porkalob's comments sparked so much debate, tweeting, "Tell me somebody touched some deeply rooted, industry-wide, patriarchal nerves without telling me somebody touched some deeply rooted, industry-wide, patriarchal nerves…"

Other Broadway alums were less specific in their own commentary, with Frozen star Patti Murin sharing that she's "actually obsessed with [the] interview," and Max Von Essen joking that he would give 200% if cast in Broadway's Six.

1776 continues its run at Broadway's American Airlines Theatre through January 8, 2023.

Get a First Look at Broadway's All-Female, Transgender, and Non-Binary 1776

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