Café Nordo is currently revisiting their 2011 dinner theatre show, To Savor Tomorrow, but with one big change: this time the lead role has been transformed from male to female, and will be played by local actor and writer Sara Porkalob.
While Porkalob has not previously performed in dinner theatre, she obtained the role through her solid reputation in the industry. “[Writer] Terry Podgorski and [Food Designer] Erin Brindley asked director Keira McDonald if she knew of any comedic female Asian actors in town,” Porkalob said. “Keira and I have a long history together and she’s very familiar with my work.”
Although Porkalob felt initial trepidations about the project, those were remedied quickly. “Everyone involved really made me feel taken care of,” she said. “They all made me feel comfortable and were all very informative and helpful.”
To Savor Tomorrow’s story takes place inside the cabin of a Boeing 707 Stratocruiser airplane, as international heavy-weights battle over the secrets of food and genetic modification. “It’s all about the layered story-telling: who is conning who, who has the biggest secret, who kicks the most ass, who is bluffing,” Porkalob said.
Audience integration is key to the experience. “Our audience really gets let in on the fun, they get to see us be our cover characters and our spy counterparts at the drop of a dime,” Porkalob said. “The audience gets to see us be sneaky and they love it.”
Porkalob’s lead character Piang Jing is right in the mix. “She’s all business, cutting to the chase, efficiency,” she said. “She’s great at kicking ass and has a killer sense of smell.”
Porkalob has enjoyed the rehearsal and discovery process in preparation for the show. “Keira is a very specific type of director—I consider her a director of form and physicality. She has a background in clown arts and she teaches Physical Technique at Cornish College of the Arts,” Porkalob said. “She wanted a very specific type of physical aesthetic in this show and it was very exciting to work with her.”
Although dinner theatre is new for Porkalob, the focus on physical technique was very familiar. “As an actor, I work very much the same way,” Porkalob said. “Once I have a physical form, I can fill it with motivation and big choices.”
Next, the actors all have to blend their performances with the dinner service. “We have service breaks in the performance, meaning there will be a chunk of time where we are performing, then there’s a dance, followed by a chunk of time where we serve the next course,” Porkalob said. “At first, I was nervous about the service breaks, because I was a total newbie to this format.”
But she learned a lot from her fellow artists in rehearsal. “I didn’t know how I was going to incorporate my character into the service,” she said. “It turns out that being in character makes serving easier and is more fun for the audience!”
Some of Porkalob’s most memorable moments have occurred during dramatic interactions with audience members during the serving intervals. “My character has two sides,” she said. “One is the bubbly, aims-to-please, talkative bartender. The other is my secret agent, ‘look at me wrong and I’ll cut off your nose’ character.”
Recently, Porkalob enjoyed displaying her character’s latter “secret agent” side. “One night, I’m serving the third course to a table and I’m handing a woman a sharp steak knife,” she said. “She puts her hand on mine, looks at me, and says, ‘Is that all real?’ And I’m super confused because I’m like, ‘What is she talking about, the steak?’”
But the audience member had a surprising answer, saying, “Your hair! Is all your hair real or is it a hair piece?” Porkalob now understood, reporting that, during the show, her hair “is styled in this high bun-braided thing, and it looks badass.”
Porkalob jumped in to this unique opportunity for engaging the audience. “I laugh in character and smile, and say, ‘I have good genes! Would you like to touch it?’” Porkalob reported. “And as she is reaching towards my hair, I lean into her and whisper in my secret agent voice, ‘Touch my hair and I’ll kill you.’”
Then she segued back to her physical technique. “I pull away, smile, place her knife by her plate and walk away,” Porkalob said. “She laughed hysterically as I was walking away. Luckily, it was a very Piang-like thing to say so it worked perfectly.”
Porkalob is looking forward to sharing this performance with a whole new group of people. “Being a professional actor in Seattle, I’ve gotten used to seeing a specific type of audience,” she said. “The audience at Nordo? I know about 1% of them, which is unusual for me.”
She believes that the hospitality sets this show apart. “Everyone comes here because they know they’re going to have a good time and be treated well,” she said. “There is no pretentiousness about the art and it’s so much fun.”
‘To Savor Tomorrow’ runs through June 5 at Nordo’s Culinarium, Café Nordo, 109 South Main Street, Seattle. For more information, visit http://www.cafenordo.com/now-playing.