A successful singer and actor currently performing in the National Tour of Phantom of the Opera, Herb Porter '13 is poised for a successful career on stage. He credits his Denison voice instructor Belinda Andrews-Smith and his biology major for the skills that have stood him in good stead.
As a biology major, Porter spent the bulk of his time in Samson Talbot Hall, learning about genetics and the building blocks of life. But once a week, he headed down the Hill to take voice lessons with Belinda Andrews-Smith. She encouraged him to try out for the Singers Theater Workshop, a semester-long class that culminates in performances of Broadway musicals.
The process of combining his love of biology and music evolved organically. “I've been singing my whole life and wanted to keep it up,” said Porter. “In the beginning of my sophomore year Belinda twisted my arm and pulled me into Singer's Theatre Workshop, and I was hooked.”
Porter continued his work in the lab and on the stage for the next three years. “Dr. Smith allowed me to create something that was all my own, a performance of my own interpretation. She raised my confidence to new heights - giving a bio presentation is nothing compared to singing in front of a thousand people.”
After graduating from Denison, Porter worked in a cancer research lab. “It was an amazing place with the best technology, great minds, and truly helpful information-gathering,” he said. But he yearned for something more. Porter auditioned for a show in Newark, N.J., and the director encouraged him to try musical theater in New York City.
“So, I talked to Belinda, my parents and my medical mentors. They all said, 'go for it.' I took a gamble and auditioned for a big show in Pennsylvania and I haven't looked back. If I ever decide to go back to medical school, I can do that in the future, this is my time to pursue the stage.”
Porter took the leap and he relishes what it brought him - even the adversity. “Belinda sat me down before I left Denison and told me about the hardships of the theatre world: a lot of waiting, more rejection then I care to remember and, of course, the pure difficulty of landing a job. All these things are true and then some. Every time I get a job it's like I've won the lottery.”
“Mentoring young singers is the best part of my work at Denison,” said Andrews-Smith. “I have traveled to multiple states to watch Herb perform and I still prepare him for auditions when he is in town. I am so proud of his many accomplishments!”
There aren't many non-musical-theatre majors on Broadway, and Porter turned this into an advantage. “My biology major helped me become a fast and efficient study. I view everything like a lab report. I break out it down to its basics and then interpret it in a way that makes sense to me, so I can perform it to the best of my ability,” he said. “At the end of the day, my biology major makes me stand out among the thousands of musical theatre majors. And it gives me a solid fallback if this world doesn't work out.”
And Porter has found that Denison connects him to audiences around the world. “Denison is everywhere. I'll leave the stage after a show and there will be some alumni standing back there waiting to tell me when they graduated. It's great to have this extended family in these towns I've never been to!”