Allen Tyrone Porterie hopes to cast more light on the theater stage. The issue in question is homophobia as it pertains to gay black men in the theater. “This research relates closely to me, and it is also a very important issue,” says Porterie.
Porterie is pursuing a major in English and a minor in theater. “I really came to Cornell because I was interested in the English program,” he says. As his interest developed in the topic of homophobia, he found that professors and opportunities at Cornell channeled that intellectual curiosity further. “My English professor, Dagmawi Woubshet, was very instrumental in guiding me in the field,” says Porterie, citing reading lists, documentaries, and connections Woubshet provided. Porterie’s adviser from the Office of Academic Diversity Initiative (OADI), Tremayne Waller, also connected Porterie to other professors relevant to his field of interest.
Masculinity in Theater and Daily Life
To explore his interest as a research topic, Porterie applied and was accepted into Louisiana State University’s Pre-Doctoral Scholars Institute, where he conducted research over the summer (2017) as a rising sophomore. He broadened his topic to encapsulate the performance of masculinity in theater and daily life, expecting the research to extend far beyond the summer, making it the central interest of his academic pursuit at Cornell.
Porterie’s goal for his summer research was to explore how black gay men are portrayed in theater. He aimed to distill insights directly from the actors—interviewing performing artists about their experiences—while also reading works to refine the shape of his research.
“Over the course of four weeks, I read various articles and books on the definition of masculinity. As I looked further into the literature, I found that the issue lies not just in how gay black men are portrayed, but how masculinity is performed by men of all sexual identities.”
“My English professor, Dagmawi Woubshet, was very instrumental in guiding me in the field.”
To complete the research program, Porterie wrote a paper on what he found as well as tangible goals for future research. He’s still on a path to interview professional actors, playwrights, costume designers, and directors to examine how masculinity is portrayed on stage. Further, he plans to interview men outside of the theater world on what masculinity means to them and how they perform it in daily life.
“As a rising sophomore, I took this summer program as an opportunity to get ahead in this work—as a launch pad for the research I will conduct in my following years,” Porterie says. “This research will ultimately be my honor's thesis for Cornell and research area in graduate school."
Porterie also sees his pursuits culminating in a play. “My vision is to write a play that is focused on gay black men and include performers who identify as such,” he says. He took steps toward that vision, even as a freshman. In April 2017, Porterie starred as the father in the play Life Sentence, performed at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts. Written by Gloria Majule ’17, the play is about a drama surrounding a Tanzanian family. It is the first play in 13 years to boast an all-black cast and directing team at Cornell.
Current Life at Cornell and Future Goals
Porterie is already an OADI Research Scholar; next he hopes to become a Mellon Mays Fellow or a McNair Scholar, which focuses on preparing underrepresented undergraduates for entrance to a PhD program. He appreciates the intellectual pursuits in his Cornell education. His career goal is to become an English professor and professional actor. Outside of academics, Porterie is part of the University Chorale and the African Dance Repertoire. He is also a member of Cornell OUTreach, which is a social support group for men of all sexual identities.
“I enjoy the community here because there are so many different interests in different people settings. You just have to reach out and ask them what they’re doing and ask if you can hop on board.” More than that, Porterie’s research and community involvement are welcoming more onto the stage.