Interviews for 2004

Nathan Thomas
talks with

Joshua Porter

The Future:  Or, Interview Part Two

Regular readers of this journal and this column know of this publication's and this writer's pursuit for the future of theatre and acting.  Thus this month's interview.  Joshua Porter is the future of acting.  Or certainly a part of it.  As a young actor starting his career, Porter is likely to be acting over the next 50-60 years.  Friends, that's the future.

Joshua Porter is currently completing his college training as an actor.  As this journal goes on-line, Porter will appear as Ray in The Beauty Queen of Leenane in a regional festival that is part of the annual search for the best in USA university theatre sponsored by the Kennedy Center-American College Theatre Festival.  An Irene Ryan-competition nominee, Porter has played a wide range of lead roles in plays ranging from Chekhov's The Seagull to Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things.  Porter has also worked in several musicals including, Grand Hotel, Cabaret, 1776, and Mame.  He recently played the Tin Man in a musical version of The Wizard of Oz for young audiences.  He plans to move to southern California soon to build a career there.

We had the opportunity to sit down and talk with him about what he's done and get a sense of how he works as an actor.  Passion, relationships, and ideas are topics that resonate through the interview and Porter's work.  This bodes well for the future of acting.

You first appeared as an actor in an "adult" play (Smile) when you were ten, what was the play?  What can you remember from that experience?

 Let's see, I remember the audition very well, and I was so excited because I got to use profanity.  The show was about a beauty pageant -- so needless to say there were a bunch of college girls in the show, and I was in heaven.   I also remember the closeness of the cast, very much like a family.  I was the "new kid," and I just became the baby of the group

Early on you played either the younger brother or child. As a young actor did you find that fun to have a "second family?"  

It was so much fun to have that "second family."  A good majority of the people in that group I consider my family.  You have every type of aunt, uncle, cousin, brother, sister, etc.... that you ever wanted.

You mentioned the closeness of the cast as a memory of your early experience on stage.  What led you to pursue acting as a vocation?

Part of it had to do with that, building those relationships.  And then when you are a kid growing up you want to be a doctor, lawyer, cowboy, Indian, etc... But as an actor you can be all of this things play all sorts of characters

You've acted in plays for young audiences both as a young person and as an adult, and I want to talk about that a little later.  For a moment, I'd like to turn to Moises Kaufman. You've been in a couple of plays by Kaufman (or been in one and rehearsing one now).  How would you describe your approach to working on his material (multiple characters, etc)?

It's difficult.  You have to be able to finish a moment and immediately cut it off.  It's very much like a film.  But in a film they have editing rooms, costumes, take after take... and on stage you have to make that happen the same way.  For every character you have to find their voice, body position, etc... and cut it off and move on to the next [character] or pick it back up in the blink of an eye.  The goal is for the audience to see 10 or whatever different people.

Beyond the multiple characters, Kaufman seems more to be "reporting" characters rather than writing characters who have through-lines and motivations.  Or are you able to find that?  Do you think you fill out the characters, or do you "sketch" them?

It's interesting because both shows that I've done by Kaufman have been about real people and real events, very factual information.  You do a little of both.  You fill out the characters and find as much about them as you can, and alot of that is in the way it is written, but then what you actually get to show is a "sketch."

Whom did you play in As Bees in Honey Drown?


In contrast to working on several smaller characters, Evan is a major character who is both acted upon by some of the other characters as well as drives much of what happens in Act II as he plots his revenge. Did you find anything different in terms of dealing with energy or motivation, etc that was different from previous work?  

Very much so.  I think this is one of the first shows I really felt the "zone." The energy of the show was real interesting and contrasting.  The character made this journey from infancy to adulthood in an hour and a half.  He got wrapped in by this woman promising the world, and it was pulled out from underneath him. The energy was somewhat a roller coaster.  But it was all about sustaining that energy from scene to scene.

Was that new for you, or was it comparable to anything else?

It was very new.  I think that was my sophomore year, and it was the first show that was almost all about the character I was playing.  It was nerve wracking.

Now in Neil LaBute's "Shape of Things" you also played the lead male who ultimately finds out he was manipulated. How do you approach a role in which it seems as if the character is a little more *re* active rather than *pro* active?

My approach to that was to forget everything. Meaning knowing the show so well and every moment of it that I could recite it in my sleep, but then on stage forget all of that and "react."

Right.  Now many actors talk about listening being the most important part of acting.  Is that what you're talking about here?  Or something else?  For those of us who are poor listeners, how do you think you've gotten to be a better listener?

Listening is a big part. But more than that it's finding the motivation of the individual and being able, no matter what happens, to know what that person would do.  To be a better listener -- practice, practice, practice.  I don't know.  I still struggle with that, I really don't start "listening" till almost crunch time.  But I will say that listening helps you so much in knowing where you're at.

Good.  Now, you've also had the opportunity to play lead roles in classic plays like Elektra and The Seagull.  Do you find working on classical roles the same as working on contemporary roles?  I mean it would seem that playing in a very contemporary play like The Shape of Things would be very different from playing a Greek prince in Elektra.  What did you find?

It is a very different but also very much the same.  It is all about the research or "actor's homework".  With contemporary plays you relate a little more with the characters and know people like the characters.  But when you look at a play like The Seagull, it is written so beautifully that it is timeless, and you can relate to it so much.  The biggest thing is to find out the specifics of what was going on in the world when these classics where written.

Well, let's turn to children's theatre from the classics. You've played for young audiences both as a young actor and as an adult.  How is performing for the young folks different from acting for adults?

Acting in its whole core is exciting and a wonderful experience.  But being able to see the looks on little kids' faces makes it 100 times better. Kids have no worries; their reactions are so pure.  And when you do adult shows there is a whole different energy that you are sharing than you do with kids

Is the energy difference simply a question of quantity? (More energy?)  Or is it something else?

When you do "adult shows" you have to dig real deep.  And doing a children's show it's lighthearted and fun.

OK.  Now some general questions . . . . You've had the opportunity to work both on stage and some independent and industrial film projects.  How do you find the work differs in the different media?

The stage work you rehearse for a month (maybe longer) and in film you may not rehearse at all.  You have your script, and you show up when they film, and you are able to cut and redo.   In stage productions you are "on," and each night maybe different.

And in working on stage and on camera, you've worked with a wide variety of directors -- student directors, experienced directors, co-directors -- as an actor, what do you want from a director?

Constructive criticism, communication, I like being able to bounce ideas off of the director and vice versa.

 I'm sure it sometimes happens that your point of view about a character or a piece of action differs from the director.  How does that work out?  Is the director always right?  How do you handle artistic differences?

I try to talk it out. Give my views, hear what they have to say and try to find a middle ground.  But, I'm open to try it a variety of ways if need be. I'll go back to the drawing board as many times as I need to.  In the end it is the director's vision.

In this conversation a few things have reappeared more than once -- passion, ideas and relationships primarily.  Would you say that these things are part of what give you the desire to want to act?

Very much so.  And no matter how bad I think a show is going or how much rehearsal sucks -- those things keep me going and my head in the ball game.

Good.  You're planning to move to southern California before long to start your career there.  Do you have any expectations, hopes, fears about moving and starting out on that journey?

No.  It's just the next chapter, another journey/adventure; I'm ready for it to start. I'm not fooling myself that it's going to be easy, but I'm ready.

Good.  Is there any topic or role that we haven't talked about or touched on that you'd like to talk about?

We talked about my "second family" but the support and backing that I get from my family is amazing, and I would have never made it this far without the drive that was instilled in me by my Mom.

She's been very supportive, but she's never been the stereotypical "stage mom" has she?

Ha Ha.  No, she would never be like that and if she ever thought of herself in that manner she would be so embarrassed.

Great.  Finally, my James Lipton question:  Who's the better captain -- Kirk or Picard?

Kirk.   The original.  Picard is an X-man now.

Great.  Well, that's it.  Thanks so much for taking the time to sit down and do this.

Not a problem.

©2004 Nathan Thomas

Nathan Thomas is a multi-talented theatre
artist and a contributing writer to Scene4.
His rmonthly column will return with the next issue...
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