'Teachers Saved My Life': Billy Porter on the Intersection of Arts Education and Black Lives Matter

Education News   'Teachers Saved My Life': Billy Porter on the Intersection of Arts Education and Black Lives Matter
 
The Kinky Boots Tony winner spoke to arts educators about the profound impact of teachers in his life during the virtual Broadway Teachers Workshop.
Broadway Inspirational Voices_25th Anniversary Gala_2020_HR
Billy Porter Valerie Terranova

Billy Porter joined the virtual Broadway Teachers Workshop this year for an hour-long interview that saw the Pose star sharing the importance that teachers and arts education played in his life, particularly as a young Black man.

"The teachers in my life saved my life," shared the Tony and Emmy winner. "We can't make it without teachers. We can't make it without those people that care."

For Porter, the importance of teachers and arts education was all the more profound on his life, specifically because he was Black and lacked the access and opportunities that white students often take for granted.

"I'm from the hood. I'm from the church. There was nobody in my sphere, nobody who would understand or tell me what to do and where to go, or how to dream beyond my circumstance. My circumstance on paper said I'm gonna be a statistic. I'm gonna be a drug addict. I'm gonna be in jail, or I'm gonna be dead. That's what the statistics say, still to this day for a person who looks like me and comes from where I come from. It was [my teachers]—I call them my angels—who stepped in at every moment."

One such moment came when Porter's high school theatre teacher coached him to attend Carnegie Mellon University, even as a then 18-year-old Porter was eager to leave Pittsburgh for college and move to New York City.

"It's about access. It's about opportunity. It's about knowledge. I lived a 12-minute drive from Carnegie Mellon University for my entire life and had no idea that it was one of the best drama schools in the world. How did I not know that? This is what we mean when we say it's not equal—it's not a level playing field. Had [my teacher] not said something, I would have moved to New York City unprepared and tanked. It was because of teachers, the angels in my life who saw me before I could even see myself, and said, 'You're going over here. Just listen.' And I knew enough to actually shut up and listen."

The Broadway Teachers Workshop, usually held annually in New York City, offers professional development to theatre teachers nationwide through workshops and seminars with Broadway professionals, along with networking opportunities. This year's workshop, moved online in response to COVID-19, featured streamed conversations with Porter, Patti LuPone, Chita Rivera, Stephen Schwartz, Gavin Creel, John Cariani, John Tartaglia, and Alex Timbers. The event is produced in conjunction with theatrical licensor Music Theatre International.

Watch Porter's complete interview at BroadwayTeachingGroup.com.

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