The most nuance — Christopher Portley gravitates toward complex roles


Reporter’s Note: Each summer, Chautauqua Theater Company and Chautauqua Opera Company invite young actors and artists into its program for a fully-funded fellowship. This summer’s program consists of seven actors and five young artists. To better connect readers to the actors themselves, Q-and-A interviews will run regularly throughout the rest of the summer. 


Who: Christopher Portley, from Dallas, Texas, is going into his final year at Case Western Reserve University’s master of fine arts acting program. He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of North Texas. In Chautauqua Theater Company’s productions this summer, he played De’Andre in Blood at the Root and Flavio and Zanni in Commedia.

How did you find out about Chautauqua Theater Company?

When I got to grad school, I was still getting acclimated into what theater is to me, what I like and what I gravitate to. Everything was just new. I’ve never heard about Chautauqua at all, until one of my professors was talking about it, saying that they were coming to see (us) audition for the summer. I went online, did some research and auditioned and didn’t get in my first year. When I auditioned the second time, I felt that I knew who I was as an artist. I got a callback and the rest is history. 

I found out when I was in class so I had to keep down my excitement, but I was jumping up and down inside. I still find that I’m pinching myself that I’m actually here. Being able to learn, it’s very humbling, and I don’t take it for granted.

What is a performance that you saw recently that wowed you?

There’s a performance that I always go back to because I’m so amazed at the performance level and commitment. Brian Stokes Mitchell and Viola Davis at the 2001 Tony Awards did a scene from King Hedley II, and that scene is so powerful, and it’s so potent, because it is so honest and authentic. 

I found myself watching that over and over again, and I am floored, like I am watching it for the first time every time. They both do such an amazing job because of the generosity that is given and the circumstances are so high. I think it’s just phenomenal storytelling, performances like that, that are just human.

What is your go-to movie?

“Love Jones.” It’s an old classic starring Nia Long. It’s got poetry. It’s got spoken word. It’s got Renaissance. It’s got all the things that I gravitate toward.

What is your favorite song?

“Leave the Door Open” by Silk Sonic. It’s a feel good song and just funky.

Do you have a dream role?

I think a character like Jonathan Majors in “Lovecraft Country.” I would love to play a role with my sense of activism; it’s something that I’m really gravitating toward. I would love to play characters that are psychologically complex because I felt like they have the most nuance in their stories. I’m so interested in getting to know them. How did they get that way? Where did it happen? 

Who inspires you?

Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, James Earl Jones. I’m also inspired by my father; he wanted to be an actor. He went to school for acting. Then, of course, he had me. He always pushed me in a way to go after what I want and to be steadfast in that. Both of my parents have been my no. 1 fans. I think that inspiration fuels me to just go after what I want in this field. 

What are you eating after a long day of rehearsal?

I’ve been plant-based for about, like, six months. I’ll do a breakfast burrito. I love breakfast any time of the day. It’s my favorite meal. I have found joy in that transition of going plant-based and having fun in the kitchen cooking.

What has been your favorite part of being a part of CTC?

The best thing has been working with both of these directors as collaborators and being given the agency to find more truth in my storytelling.

Tags : 2021Chautauqua Theater Companychristopher portleycomplex rolesconservatory actor
David Kwiatkowski

The author David Kwiatkowski