“I was an actor first,” recalls Kim Porter, a Valley mother of two whose play titled “Munched” opens next month at Space 55 in Phoenix. It’s the tale of a mother with Munchausen syndrome and the grown daughter who asks “Why?”
Porter says she began “noodling around with writing” in high school, fantasizing that she’d one day write novels while wearing sweaters in New England. “I’d turn out a few pages,” muses Porter, “then crap out.”
“No one ever taught me to write,” shares Porter. Instead, she learned by doing. Porter toyed with sketch comedy before tackling solo shows. “I had funny ideas, but no conflict.” Porter recalls needing a “writing 101 class” but instead taught herself how to write.
Soon Porter, living in San Francisco at the time, became the “go to person” for theater folk eager to pen their own plays. She’d found her “niche” in teaching and coaching others. “By watching others make mistakes, I learned more about writing,” reflects Porter. “That’s my heart’s work,” she says.
When career opportunities opened for her husband here in Phoenix, and the “arcane process” of choosing the best school fit for daughter Colette felt too frustrating, Porter and her husband headed to Arizona — where Porter is now a member of the Space 55 ensemble. Porter will be performing the lead role in “Munched,” a work first conceived shortly after her daughter was born.
“Munched” originated during wee hour (think 1 am) nursing sessions. “I had one arm underneath the baby,” recalls Porter, “and another clicking arond on the mommy boards.” She discovered “all these stories of judging mothers, but also anger towards the medical establishment.”
The mommy blogs were full of birth stories — Porter calls them “horror stories” — in which the childbirth experience so many expected to be perfectly blissful went awry. But Porter read more than mommy blogs. One book, titled “Geek Love,” stuck with her. “I was moved and horrified,” she recalls, “by all those people who had self-mutilated.”
“What kind of person,” wondered Porter, “mutilates themselves or others?” Each time Porter encountered a story of mutilation, medical malpractice or maternal misconduct, she found herself going back and forth about whether the person at the heart of the story was innocent or guilty.
Porter coupled these musings with her belief that everyone yearns “for a time when they were a lap baby.” Even grown-ups, she says, feel a primal longing to be cuddled by their mothers. “What,” Porter wondered, “would the loss of a mom or child feel like?” She wanted to explore the interconnectedness of mother and child “in all its healthy and unhealthy” ways.
The result was “Munched,” which Porter describes as “a who-done-it and a love story.” She’s careful to halt her description there, preferring that parents experience the work for themselves rather than hearing her take on what they’re likely to think or feel while encountering it.
The Space 55 production of “Munched” is directed by Duane Daniels, who previously directed the work in Los Angeles. Shawna Franks, a Space 55 founder who serves as artistic director, praises Daniels for being open to his actors while keeping his own vision.
Franks credits a series of Tuesday night dinners she once hosted for fellow playwrights with launching Space 55. The company will revisit their very first production, “7 Minutes in Heaven,” for its seventh anniversary next June.
Franks hails from theater-rich Chicago and, like Porter, is a proud mother of two. So what does Franks think of Porter’s work? “I’m deeply committed,” shares Franks, “to her writing, her talent and her voice.” Franks sees “Munched” as the perfect fit for Space 55, noting that the ensemble-based company favors “new, original and rarely seen” works.
Like Porter, Space 55 is on a journey. During the next several years, Franks hopes to increase funding for Space 55, give birth to offshoots producing fresh new works and help launch works like “Munched” onto the national stage.
They’re off to a good start. The Space 55 production of playwright Greg Kotis’ “The Unhappiness Plays” was part of this year’s New York International Fringe Festival, and “Munched” will be performed by Sugar Valley Theatricals at Manhattan Theatre Source come November.
Porter’s days of “crapping out” seem well behind her, replaced by the ability to steadfastly shepherd an idea from conception to maturity. How lovely to travel the joint journey of parenting and playwriting with the sheer joy and terror that each can bring.
Coming up: MLK takes center stage, Opportunities for young writers