Tiffany Walker Porta on Always…Patsy Cline
I’m a big fan of Patsy Cline and when I saw Always…Patsy Cline on press night at Toby’s Baltimore, I was amazed how Tiffany Walker Porta’s renditions of many of Patsy’s hit songs – including “I Fall to Pieces”, “Crazy”, and “Walkin’ After Midnight”, had that unique Patsy “sound”. I had never seen Tiffany perform before, and I immediately wanted to know more about her and how she prepared for her role playing the country legend whose life was cut short in a plane crash in 1963 at the age of 30.
Ted Swidley’s Always…Patsy Cline is based on “Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline” by Ellis Nassour. In his book, Ellis wrote about Patsy’s encounter in 1961 with a fan named Louise Seger. That night, the two met before the show and they started a long friendship. Several weeks later, Louise Seger received the first of many letters from Patsy Cline. The letters kept coming for two years until the Patsy’s untimely death. The title of this musical came from how Patsy signed each letter – “Always…Patsy Cline”.
Tiffany Walker Porta (Patsy Cline):
Joel: What is Always…Patsy Cline about?
Tiffany: Always…Patsy Cline is about a one-time encounter that turned into a special friendship between two women.
Patsy Cline was a daughter, sister, singer, wife, mother, and friend. She paved the way for many female country music artists. Patsy had a unique sound that couldn’t be imitated. She was a singer who not only sang the words to the song, but also put emotion behind the lyrics.
Joel: I met your Mom and Dad on press night and they told me you have always loved Patsy Cline.
Tiffany: True! My parents grew up in Huntington, West Virginia, but my Dad’s career moved them around. We relocated to Maryland when I was one, from Ohio. My parents were very close to their families who still resided in Huntington. Often, my parents would pack the car up (me and my sister’s included) and head to the wild and wonderful. My father was a big country music fan. On those long and crowded trips, I was exposed to tons of music: Crystal Gayle, Conway Twitty, Elvis, and so many more. Daddy would also play Patsy Cline too. I must be honest; those long eight plus hour car rides (riding the hump, thanks sis!) were hard for a young little girl. But, what I remember most is the music.
Joel: Do you remember what the song was and how you felt the first time you heard Patsy sing?
Tiffany: I remember hearing the song, “A Church, A Courtroom and Then Goodbye” (you can watch and hear Patsy sing the song below). I honestly don’t remember what I felt exactly, but I do remember wanting to hear her sing again. I didn’t react that way with other artists Daddy played. When I listen to that song now, well unfortunately, it hits a little too close to home.
Joel: When did you first perform a Patsy Cline song?
Tiffany: The first song I ever performed publicly of Patsy’s was “Crazy”. My college roommate’s father was a big Patsy Cline fan. He had heard me sing before and said he would love to hear me sing Patsy Cline songs. I went to the beach with them, and they had a family karaoke night. He requested I sing “Crazy” for him and I did. I was nervous singing “Crazy”, because I didn’t know how I would pull it off. Well, I guess I did all right because he requested it again at my roommate’s wedding. I have sung that song many times since then and must honestly say, “Thanks Mr. Don!”
Joel: How did you prepare for the role?
Tiffany: I listened to her music, over and over and over again. With technology today, I was able to watch video clips of her performing, as well as read about her life. Her husband produced a documentary about her. I was able to watch little snippets from the film. Testimonies from the film given by friends and family about Patsy, gave me a lot of insight on who Patsy Cline actually was.
My favorite Patsy website is here: This website also has links to other websites.
Joel: The risk of doing a show like this is that you could be accused of impersonating Patsy Cline. Are you impersonating Patsy?
Tiffany: No! However, I do try and incorporate some of her style into my own voice. I don’t think anyone could impersonate Patsy successfully.
Joel: Your voice is stunningly beautiful and unique – just like Patsy’s.
Tiffany: What a compliment! Thank you!
Joel: How would you describe the way you sing Patsy’s songs in the show?
Tiffany: My singing voice has always been a big and loud one! Since a child, I have performed all different kinds of music. I wanted to be a country singer, then a pop singer, all the while longing to be a Broadway performer. When singing Patsy’s songs I must really tone down the Broadway side of my voice. I try and focus on the style of her music, and like Patsy, make an effort to convey emotion through the sound of my voice. In regards to how similar and different my voice is to Patsy’s, I don’t know. I will let the audience decide that. I’m just hoping that they like and enjoy what they hear.
Joel: You played this role before with the same director – Dan McDonald. Tell us about that.
Tiffany: I was given the honor of portraying the role of Patsy Cline in Winters Lane Productions of Always…Patsy Cline. If I remember correctly, Dan entered the project late, as a replacement for the original director.
Joel: How is this production different from the Winters Lane production?
Tiffany: The space we were in before was very different than the space at Toby’s. Dan was able to really use all areas of the stage this go around. Ever since day one, he has tried to convey his passionate vision for this production. I have tried to respect that vision in the way I portray Patsy.
This go around, Dan’s direction is different. Although I already have Patsy in my head, Dan wanted me to think more about the songs and what Patsy may have been going through during the time she sang those songs.
Joel: You sing so many Patsy Cline favorites in the show, which is your favorite and why?
Tiffany: A favorite? All of them are my favorite. The songs that are vocally difficult are the songs with the really low notes. I can hit them, but it is hard to project my voice. At this stage of my life, and the experiences that I have had over the last couple years, some of her songs really hit home. Actually, they hit so close to home that I must stay in character, or I wouldn’t be able to get through the songs. I would be a puddle on the floor!
Joel: Lynne Sigler plays Louise Seger. What’s it like working with Lynne?
Tiffany: Lynne has really welcomed me to Toby’s with open arms. She has walked me through every inch of the theatre. She has so much to do in this production, with little to no down time. Yet, she will stop what she is doing to help me out. Every time! I feel truly blessed and honored to share the stage (and dressing room) with her.
Joel: How would you describe her performance?
Tiffany: Lynne’s performance of Louise is spot on! I just revel in watching her performance. Honestly, the show is a humorous and touching marathon of a monologue, with breaks for reflection in song. She really has to grab the audience and keep their full and undivided attention, and she does so, every performance.
If I had to choose only one scene that Lynne performs and label it my favorite, it would have to be the heartfelt scene, when Louise speaks about the death of her friend, Patsy Cline. That scene gets me every time! Even during rehearsals, when she had just learned the material, her delivery was so moving. It got to the point that I had to really tune her out, or I wouldn’t be able to come on and sing the song, True Love.
Joel: How has Musical Director Cedric Lyles helped you with your performance?
Tiffany: Cedric and the girls, (Kelly, Sara Beth, Liz, Amanda, and Crystal) worked countless hours on harmonies. Cedric had a strong sense of what he wanted. The combination of their beautiful voices and Cedric’s musical direction really adds to each song I sing.
Joel: When did you first realize you had this amazing voice and wanted to be on the stage?
Tiffany: Well, performing is in my blood! I’m the youngest of three. Both of my sisters are singer/actresses. They have been on television and in movies. I found my home on the stage. I remember when I was a little girl, standing on the fireplace of Shakey’s Pizzeria singing, “Tomorrow” from Annie. Growing up, it seemed that everywhere I went people would ask me to sing: hair salons, parties, and restaurants, even funerals. As a child, I would get so embarrassed. Mom would always say, “If you don’t you will wish you had later, but it’s up to you.” And she was usually right! I began performing on stage as a kid, and honestly, I can’t imagine my life without it. Since I have had children, finding the time to perform has been difficult. Like Patsy said, “The kids always come first to me”. Before this show, the last time I performed in a musical was three years ago! And oh, how I have missed it!
Joel: You are a special education teacher. Tell us about your work, and how you juggle being a mother of two, teaching, attending graduate school, and performing in this show?
Tiffany: Well, some days not very well! Yes, I am an inclusion special education teacher in Baltimore County. Prior to working in the county I owned my own business, teaching drama to kids. My life took an unexpected turn a couple of years ago, and I needed to eventually work full time. So, I decided to use my talents and work in the county in special education. I applied and earned a spot in the MAAPP program at Goucher (Maryland-Approved Alternative Preparation Program) It is a two-year program where I work full time as a Special Education Teacher in BCPS, earn a dual certification in Elem Ed and Spec Ed, as well as, work toward earning my Masters in Teaching. Add in being a single mother of two, and performing in this show, well, there are some days I feel like the worst mother ever! If it weren’t for my own mother, I would not be able to pull it off. She really has supported me all the way.
My kids are my life, and even when I taught drama part time, I was still able to be a stay at home mom. Having to now work full time, and not being able to always be with the kids is really hard for me. It has been a difficult transition for both my children and I. Knowing that mother is with them when I can’t be makes me breathe a little easier. When the opportunity to do this show came about, I didn’t know how I would be able to add one more thing to my life. I was worried about the kids, and being able to spend time with them during the summer. Especially since last summer, when I began the MAAPP program I had to take 15 credits in 7 weeks! I continued classes during the school year and I’m currently taking 6 credits.
I was looking toward this summer because I knew I would actually be able to spend quality time with them. I wasn’t sure how doing a show would affect that. My family and friends kept telling me that I should just do it! My children told me to do it. My mother and family told me they would help me work it out…what ever it took. I think everyone knows that performing has always brought so much happiness to my life. I have always felt in my heart that performing was what I should be doing. Not to mention, for me performing was like my therapy. Well, I was in need for some therapy! And so here I am.
Again, without my mother, I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. My mother and I are very close. She has been my number one supporter my entire life. Over the past two years, she has unselfishly worked so hard to be there for my children and I. Words cannot express my love and gratitude for her. She has been an outstanding role model and one hell of a teacher! I hope to be the same kind of mother to my own children.
Joel: Any roles you’d like to perform that you haven’t yet?
Tiffany: Tons! Too many to mention! I will say that in my perfect world, I would get to play Elphaba in Wicked!
Joel: What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing you perform in Always…Patsy Cline?
Tiffany: The Always…Patsy Cline souvenir glass, of course! In all seriousness, I always love going to the theatre and really connecting with the story and the characters and feeling the ride of all the different emotions that unfold as the story is told…All the while forgetting that I am sitting in the audience. As the audience leaves Always…Patsy Cline, I really hope that they felt the time at the theatre was time well spent. I hope that for even one minute they were able to forget about everything else and get lost in my voice….lost in the music, entertained by the story. And of course, tell all of their friends that they must see the show!
Always…Patsy Cline plays through July 25th at Toby’s Baltimore, in the Best Western Hotel and Conference Center- 5625 O’Donnell Street in Baltimore, MD. To make reservations, call (410) 649-1660, or click here:
Listen to Tiffany Walker Porta sing “The Star Spangled Banner” à la Patsy Cline here.