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Performance Driven

drama / alumni

Carnegie Mellon University alumnus Billy Porter, who won Grammy and Tony awards for his work in the Broadway musical “Kinky Boots," does not rest on his laurels. Recently, the singer, actor and playwright directed a play, released his fourth solo album, launched a national tour, began writing the books for two new musicals and exchanged wedding vows.

For all of his success, the 1991 School of Drama graduate will receive a 2017 Alumni Achievement Award.

“I’m thrilled to be able to come back home and share this with my family,” said Porter, who grew up in Pittsburgh.

Currently an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon's School of Drama, he regularly returns to Pittsburgh to direct shows and conduct workshops with students.

Porter has been wowing audiences since leaving Carnegie Mellon. “His high-lying tenor is a powerful instrument,” reads one New York Times review.

His former Carnegie Mellon acting teacher, Barbara Mackenzie-Wood, agrees. “He has glorious singing ability,” she said.

With his talent for boisterous, hilarious characters, Porter worked nonstop for nearly a decade after leaving Carnegie Mellon, and released his first solo R&B album in 1997. But in the early 2000s, he said he believed his early success pigeonholed him.

“I was being boxed into a type,” he said of his role as Broadway’s go-to for flamboyant, two-dimensional characters. “When I pursued more complex roles, the work dried up.”

Rather than wilt, Porter sowed new creative seeds, in part through the work ethic he said was instilled in him at Carnegie Mellon. He studied screenwriting and penned the “passionate, life-affirming” one-man-musical “Ghetto Superstar," which he performed at New York City’s Public Theater, and the autobiographical play “While I Yet Live," which went on to enjoy a successful Off-Broadway run.

He took on directing as well, conceiving and leading the original musical revue “Being Alive," which combined the words and music by composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim with text from Shakespeare.

In 2013, he returned to Broadway as the cross-dressing, high-heeled “Lola” in the smash-hit musical “Kinky Boots,” for which he earned critical acclaim and Tony and Grammy awards.

Today, Porter shows no signs of slowing down. He just released his fourth album, “The Soul of Richard Rodgers" and is now on tour. He also is developing a play with New York City’s Public Theater and writing the books for two musicals.

Porter said he loves everything he does.

Mackenzie-Wood is not surprised at Porter’s many creative facets.

“Billy is a force of nature,” she said. “He’ll be going strong for a long, long time.”