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Interview: Catherine Porter of March 28th's VISIBLE INK: PERFORMANCE OF WORKS BY MSK PATIENTS

"Cancer doesn't need to define us, but we can certainly define cancer."

Interview: Catherine Porter of March 28th's VISIBLE INK: PERFORMANCE OF WORKS BY MSK PATIENTS In life, we have options when it comes to adversity. We can either let the bumps in the road get us down and define us, or we can rise to the occasion, fight the fight, and use the pain to grow. For actress and singer Catherine Porter, cancer might have held her back, but that wasn't in her constitution. Porter found the right healers and the right attitude and she triumphed over cancer. A big part of that journey was using her artistry to grow, to express herself, and to stay of a positive mind. Some of that artistry will be on display tomorrow night when the VISIBLE INK program out of Memorial Sloan Kettering's Cancer Center presents a live stream of art created by patients who are a part of the program. Catherine Porter's song "The Mountain" will be one of the works of art performed.

To learn exactly what Visible Ink does and what tomorrow night's broadcast will present, Broadway World Cabaret exchanged some questions and answers with Catherine Porter about her art, her survival, and the fight that feeds them both.

This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced with minor edits.

Catherine Porter, welcome to Broadway World!

Thank you, dear one, it's always a pleasure to be here!

How are you fine folks doing, over at your house these days?

Thank you for asking! We are alive and well and relatively sane despite everything this wonky world is winging at us right now! Whew!

You recently released a cover of the Tears For Fears song Everybody Wants to Rule the World. What was your inspiration for that project?

Interview: Catherine Porter of March 28th's VISIBLE INK: PERFORMANCE OF WORKS BY MSK PATIENTS My cover of EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE is part of an album of cover songs that I had the pleasure of creating with brilliant UK producers, Danny Saxon and Mark Jaimes. The whole concept of the album was to take songs I loved from the '70s to '80s, slow them down, and string them up. We changed up songs like "SOMEBODY TO LOVE" by Queen, Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance's "SUMMER OF 69," to name a few others. It's truly one of my favorite recording projects. This Tears For Fears track struck me as interesting because it's quite a boppy tune, juxtaposed with these poignant and dark lyrics. By slowing it down, we showed the beauty of the song while really making you listen to the lyrics. Tears for Fears have been quoted as saying, "This song is about the lust for power and control and the destructive consequences which manifest as a result." It was written in 1985, but it's frighteningly and unfortunately relevant today.

And you are involved with Memorial Sloan Kettering's VISIBLE INK program that is live streaming on Monday night. What has been your experience with this program out of the MSK Cancer Center?

Interview: Catherine Porter of March 28th's VISIBLE INK: PERFORMANCE OF WORKS BY MSK PATIENTS Visible Ink is an amazing writing program for Cancer patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering. I became involved after I was diagnosed with cancer in 2017 and I embarked on my "cancer-kicking" journey. I discovered the program through Marin Mazzie, who was going through her own cancer journey at the time. When you enter the program, they set you up with a writing mentor; I'm lucky that my mentor is writer/director/producer Bill Persky, the ridiculously kind, hilarious, and magical writer of such classics as "That Girl," "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "Kate and Allie" to name a few. I could go on about his generosity and kindness; the guy is an icon and makes time to mentor. I just love him! Visible Ink puts out a yearly publication that patients submit their writing to and an annual performance, where a certain number of pieces are selected to be presented by professional Broadway and TV actors, singers, and dancers, directed by Greg Kachejian. My first piece ended up being a tribute to Marin, who sadly lost her battle with ovarian cancer, and it was performed by her dear friend, Debra Monk. I had stood by on Broadway for Marin in "Next To Normal" and had gotten to know her and her darling husband, Jason Daniely. I was compelled to write a piece for her. One of my other pieces was brilliantly performed by Laura Benanti, another by the wonderful Paten Hughes.

Interview: Catherine Porter of March 28th's VISIBLE INK: PERFORMANCE OF WORKS BY MSK PATIENTS

Your song "This Mountain" will be performed on Monday night; how many works of art did you create through the Visible Ink program?

THIS MOUNTAIN was the first song I had ever submitted to the program, all the rest have been straight-up stories. One story was about my sister who sadly passed from Covid early in the pandemic, another was about my internal organ family cast of characters, which has actually turned out to be the beginning of a musical that I am developing. I am thrilled that THIS MOUNTAIN will be performed by the wonderful Shannon Rugani. It's my 4th piece that I have created for Visible Ink.

Put a picture in my head of the value of artistic creation during your cancer journey.

My life changed dramatically with one diagnosis. I was scared that my creative pursuits would be on hold while I went into battle, but that wasn't the case. While dealing with cancer, writing gave me a sense of control over my illness. The stories came fast and furious and set off a fire in me. I found humor, strength, and clarity. It is well documented in many studies that creative expression is integral to healing. I recommend that anyone suffering from any illness or trauma pick up a pen and paper and start writing!

I have a friend who lives with cancer, it's an ongoing journey for her, and she often speaks of not letting cancer define her. As an artist whose work has been informed by your cancer journey, where do you find the balance between using your journey to create without feeling defined?

When I was diagnosed, I never imagined I would be creating stories and songs from this experience, but I instinctively started writing and couldn't stop. I was given this "gift" of being able to grow and learn from one of life's really insane challenges and though at times it was really hard, I was able to make some lemonade. Cancer became my superpower, you could say. It's not who I am, but it is a part of my life experience, so I am compelled to share it, and maybe in some small way I can help others. Cancer doesn't need to define us, but we can certainly define cancer.

Interview: Catherine Porter of March 28th's VISIBLE INK: PERFORMANCE OF WORKS BY MSK PATIENTS

Tell our readers why they should check out the Visible Ink live stream on Monday night.

Everyone has a story to tell. As cancer patients, we have been given this incredible platform to tell ours. The stories are heartwarming, horrifying, healing, happy and hopeful! All the H's! You will be moved, you'll laugh, and if you enjoy it, hopefully, you will become a supporter of this remarkable program!

Catherine, thank you so much for visiting with Broadway World today and for sharing your artistry with us all.

I can't thank you enough for helping to spread the word about Visible Ink, Stephen. You are a wonderful human!

VISIBLE INK will live stream HERE on Monday, March 28 at 6:30 & 9:30 pm EDT

Learn more about the VISIBLE INK program HERE.

Visit the Catherine Porter Instagram page HERE and Twitter page HERE.

Read the full VISIBLE INK press release from Memorial Sloan Kettering below for all the intel:

Thirteen Years of Storytelling: MSK's Visible Ink Writing Program Presents Performances of Works by Patients

For more than a decade, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center's (MSK) Visible Ink writing program has given a voice to more than 3,000 people with cancer, allowing each of them a unique opportunity to express themselves through interpretive dance, music, and poetry. On Monday, March 28, at 6:30pm ET and again at 9pm ET, Visible Ink will present a virtual performance of 14 works written by MSK patients and performed by actors, singers, dancers and musicians from film, television, and Broadway. Featured performers include those from the Broadway companies of "Hamilton," "Company," "Come from Away," "Chicago," and more. The performances will be streamed via Vimeo at visibleink.vimeo.mskcc.org and registration is not required for the event.

Since 2008, the program, which is open to all MSK patients, has welcomed writers of all ages and of every writing ability. Participants can write on any topic, in any form, with the individual guidance of an experienced mentor. Since its inception, more than 300 mentors have volunteered their time. These include Tony- and Emmy Award-winning writers, New York Times bestselling authors, and writers from Vogue, Time, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Parenting, US Weekly, Vanity Fair, and more. Visible Ink is funded solely by grants and donations.

"While the COVID-19 pandemic kept Visible Ink from being produced as a live show, it presented the team with the opportunity to explore new ways of showcasing the patients' stories through film and gives viewers the chance to enjoy the performance from the comfort of home," said Judith Kelman, Founder and Executive Director of Visible Ink. "We are thrilled to bring back the production for its thirteenth year and empower patients to give voice to their stories."

Highlights from the upcoming performance, which feature pieces based on patients' essays, memoirs, poetry, fiction, and original songs, include:

  • "Straight Talk on the Corner," by Daphne Gregory-Thomas: Actress Lucy Martin recounts the patient's journeys from home to chemo sessions, and the life-affirming interactions she had with caring strangers.
  • "Breasts," actress Susan Spain (from the Fox TV series Our Kind of People) narrates Lisa-Erika James' touching story of the bond of friendship between Ms. James and her three childhood friends, who all prayed daily for bigger breasts when they were girls, juxtaposed with the jarring realities of the double mastectomy she had to treat her cancer as an adult.
  • Patient writer Catherine Porter, herself a Broadway actress and song writer, has written a beautiful song called "This Mountain," which is performed in a full-length music video by Broadway and recording star Shannon Rugani (known in the music world as Empress).
  • "The Cancer Support Group on Zoom," by Juliet Melamid, explores the need for cancer patients to stay connected during the pandemic and how important that support can be - even when it comes from new acquaintances, in little boxes on a screen, whose names you may not remember.
  • "Enduring Biweekly Chemo was Easy; Finding Purell, Wipes, and Toilet Paper was Hard," by David Machlowitz is a laugh-out-loud essay about critical supply shortages early in the pandemic, performed by Company actor Javier Ignacio.
  • "Opus One," performed by Miss Saigon star Devin Ilaw, is a haunting poem about love, loss, and loneliness.

The show includes direction by Greg Kachejian, music direction by Andrew David Sotomayor, and choreography by Matthew Steffens. Performances are made possible with the support of The Rona Jaffe Foundation, The Alexis Gregory Foundation, and The Society of MSK. Together, these illuminating stories and poems represent a fraction of the works written by MSK patient participants that are published in an annual anthology. To purchase a copy and to learn how to join or support this program, please visit: visibleink.mskcc.org.

About Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK):

As the world's oldest and largest private cancer center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has devoted more than 135 years to exceptional patient care, influential educational programs, and innovative research to discover more effective strategies to prevent, control and, ultimately, cure cancer. MSK is home to more than 20,000 physicians, scientists, nurses, and staff united by a relentless dedication to conquering cancer. Today, we are one of 51 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, with state-of-the-art science and technology supporting groundbreaking clinical studies, personalized treatment, and compassionate care for our patients. We also train the next generation of clinical and scientific leaders in oncology through our continually evolving educational programs, here and around the world. Year after year, we are ranked among the top two cancer hospitals in the country, consistently recognized for our expertise in adult and pediatric oncology specialties. www.mskcc.org


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