Spartan Showcase: Christopher B. Portley

Program: MFA Professional Actor Training Program
Year: Third-year

Photo of Christopher B. Portley

Christopher B. Portley sees himself as a storyteller. It’s what drew him to acting, and, as a member of the Class of 2022 in the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Professional Actor Training Program between Cleveland Play House (CPH) and Case Western Reserve, it’s a quality he brings to each role he portrays.

This month, Portley is putting his storytelling skills to work as Feste in Twelfth Night, a romantic comedy by William Shakespeare. Playing at The Helen theater in Playhouse Square, tickets are available for performances taking place through Oct. 23.

According to Portley, the character of Feste offered an intriguing depth; though Feste is considered by the other characters to be the “fool” of the group, Portley could tell there was more to him.

“He just seemed fun,” Portley explained. “I liked that he was a wordsmith as well; I could tell there was more to him than meets the eye, and psychologically he had layers—which drew me to him even more.”

The role pushed Portley out of his comfort zone, as he had to learn how to sing in Spanish. Calling the experience “intimidating,” he credited the show’s musical composer Francisco Cano and fellow actor Gustavo Márquez (who plays Duke Orsino) for helping him overcome the challenge. Through this experience and others, the role has been proven rewarding for Portley.

“[Feste] challenged me to step into all my gifts fully, passionately and unapologetically, and operating through that affirmation in this role as a Black man and as an artist has been powerfully liberating,” he said.

Originally from Dallas, Portley’s acting credits have included stops at the African American Repertory Theatre in Texas, the Shakespeare Academy at Stratford in Stratford, Connecticut, and the Chautauqua Theatre Company in Chautauqua, New York.

While the MFA in Acting program between CPH and CWRU wasn’t initially on Portley’s radar, his audition experience sold him and it became clear why the program is ranked among the top 25 graduate acting programs internationally, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

“What stuck out was [how the faculty] seemed to be interested in reaching in and showing me what I already possess and amplifying it; that’s what intrigued me,” Portley said.

Now, as he prepares for graduation in May, Portley plans to move to New York City and pursue different types of experiences: off-Broadway, Broadway, TV and film.

Whatever they may be, Portley intends for his future roles to amplify his desire to tell stories.

“The stories I want to tell—that I look forward to exposing—are the ones that provoke the hard conversations, that change the narrative and bleed authenticity,” he said. “I have enlisted myself willingly to help shape and sharpen the cannon for the next generation of storytellers that look like me—I’m definitely a renaissance man, and I can not wait to help trailblaze the stories that are waiting to be shared.”

Be sure to catch Portley’s performance as Feste in Twelfth Night through Oct. 23 by getting your tickets now.