Sunday, October 2, 2011

Introducing Lori Portner, Director of Education and Outreach at Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette.

Lori Portner has joined Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette as the Director of Education and Outreach. She taught several classes during the summer and directed The Music Man Jr. during an intense four-week summer camp. Lori also directs Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, the first production in the 2011-2012 Civic Youth Theatre season at Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette. Welcome to Civic Theatre, Lori!

Question: Before you came to Civic Theatre, where did you work?
Lori Portner: I was Education Director at La Crosse Community Theatre in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Q: What were your duties?
L.P.: As Education Director, I directed our School of Theatre Arts. I taught classes and directed two or three shows per season. I also served as the interim Executive Director for a while.

Q: What did you most enjoy about La Crosse Community Theatre?
L.P.: What was really great at La Crosse Community Theatre was the support from the Board of Directors and my fellow staff. They were wonderful to work with. The kids were wonderful and so were the parents. It was a wonderful little family. I especially enjoyed the technical elements we were able to do in our theater, even though it was very small. It was great fun to create on our stage.

Q: What kind of programming did you have at La Crosse Community Theatre?
L.P.: When I started there, I was doing more outreach than in-house classes. I was going to different schools and teaching after-school programs. And then we decided to bring it in-house, so I was teaching after-school classes but mostly I taught classes on Saturdays for youth. We had a couple of other instructors who offered adult classes in improv and other things, but I was working with the youth. We had seven productions a year, but only one youth production which would be at the end of the season.

Q: When you initially researched Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette, what struck you most?
L.P.: When I first looked into it, I loved how it was really for the community as far as how volunteers were used. What really attracted me to it was the outreach that was being intended – going into the high schools and things like that. I also liked that it was in the Midwest; the Midwestern culture also attracted me to it.

Q: When you made your initial visit to Greater Lafayette, what were some of your first impressions?
L.P.: It reminded me very much of where I was coming from. I had been driving through flat areas, and then all of a sudden there were some hills. It reminded me so much of La Crosse, and it's a river town – I was coming from a river town. I actually didn't realize that Purdue was here, and the Purdue campus was one of the first things I saw because I came through West Lafayette.

It was a very rainy day and when I came into town and the first thing I did was find the theatre. My first thought was that it was very small, not realizing it was divided into three buildings: the office, the shop and the theatre. And I noticed all the one-way roads.

Q: What is it like working with Steve Koehler and Bob Sauers?
L.P.: In all of my adult working life, this has been one of the best job situations I've ever had. We work together really well. Steve and Bob have been nothing but supportive. If I have any questions, no matter how busy they are, they take the time to help me out and make sure I have everything I need. As far as making me feel comfortable in the town, Steve drove me around so I could see where things are. I know if there's anything I need or have questions about, Steve and Bob are right there and they will take the time to help me. I love the working environment we have at Civic.

Q: Your first experiences have included directing The Music Man Jr. and Cinderella, working with the acting troupe and heading the Civic Youth Theatre play-reading committee. What have been your impressions about Civic's volunteers?
L.P.: My first impression has been just how Civic Theatre is so community focused. When I started, I had a one-week camp and I met the young adults that were my counselors who have been doing Civic for a long time: Abby McClure, Chris Allen, Elaine Griffin and Bailey Rosa. I heard about Civic's history, how they had grown up doing it and how they were returning to help with it. That is incredible the theatre has that type of legacy with these kids that grow up in the theatre and come back as adults to keep it going. I love that. And they were so willing to do whatever it took to make camps a wonderful experience for the next round of kids who were coming up through the ranks. Those four young adults that I got to work with are so dear to me. They were the first ones here in Lafayette that I worked with closely. I felt so welcome. I felt their love for the theatre, and I couldn't help but fall in love with the theatre through them. I love that sense of feeling that theatre can provide not only a creative outlet but also a place you can feel safe to express yourself and you're with like-minded beings. You have this sense of community and sense of family and it is so strong with Civic Theatre.

Q: What is your first memory of theatre?
L.P.: I was a tween and went to see Godspell at the La Crosse Community Theatre and there was an especially attractive young man in the show. I remember at intermission they were giving grape juice. All my friends wanted grape juice but didn't want to go up to get it. I said, "Oh, I'll go get it" because the attractive young man was serving the grape juice. I go up there and have all these little cups of grape juice and I fell off the stage. The stage was three feet off the ground. And all I remember is falling and grape juice is flying through the air. My first reaction is to turn around and see if the attractive young man is watching, but luckily he had left the stage. I can't see my friends because they're all on the floor laughing so hard. And this very kind older gentleman in the front row said, "Honey, are you okay?" That's the first memory I have as an audience member.

My second memory was – again, as a tween – I was in Annie Get Your Gun. I was in junior high and I was so excited I was cast. I had one line - just walk out and I say my line. So of course my first performance I walked out and went blank. I stood there and looked at the faces of the kids around me, thinking, "Are you going to say something?" They covered my back, but I am glad to say I was able to restore my credibility. The rest of the performances I did say my line. I was in every show after that all through high school and in my yearbook, yes, I was granted the honor of being named the Best Actress of my class.

Q: Why do you like theatre?
L.P.: I like theatre for so many reasons. I have witnessed so many transformations of kids, of people, after they have discovered theatre. They found a way to express themselves; they found a place where they feel safe and comfortable. I have found that theatre is one of the most accepting art forms. In my experience, everyone is welcome. No matter their race, their sexual orientation, their religion, their whatever … they will be accepted in a theatre family. It seems like a big melting pot where we all come together and I love that. It has not been my experience that people are judgmental because they're going to create an alternate reality where they can feel safe to express themselves. Working with kids through all the years, there are moments I can pick out when a parent has expressed a change in a child, or a teacher has or the children themselves. That is so heartwarming.

The other thing is that theatre pushes us. I love theatre that makes us think, that takes us out of our comfort zone, that makes us look at the world around us with different eyes. It teaches us different things. It is a wonderful teacher with the stories that are told. I love walking out of a theatre going, "Wow. I just have to sit and digest for a while."

Q: Who are your favorite playwrights?
L.P.: David Mamet; I love Mamet. I'm partial to him because my senior project was Oleanna. I love shows that have two or three characters and they're character driven. Oscar Wilde is by far one of my favorites. I also am a fan of Ibsen.

Q: What are your favorite plays?
L.P.: I like small-cast plays. I love Oleanna. I love 'night, Mother. I love God of Carnage, I really enjoy that show. I love anything by Oscar Wilde.

Q: What is your favorite part of the theatre process?
L.P.: I hate auditions because I hate saying no. I want to cast any child who comes to me to be in a show. My costumer in La Crosse would give me a limit of how many actors I could add to the cast. I enjoy the audition process because I like to look at actors and mold them in my mind into the characters, but I hate to say no. My favorite part is when we are working on characters and discussing motive, characterization and getting into the minds of these characters.

Q: What is your favorite theatre job?
L.P.: I love acting, but being a dramaturg or stage manager is my favorite. I love dramaturgy because I love getting into the history of the show. And stage managers get to boss people around.

Q: How would you finish this statement: "If I didn't work in theatre, I would ..."?
L.P.: "I would be working with crime victims." That's what I used to do. That work was fulfilling to help victims.

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