Set designer steps into the spotlight for “The 39 Steps”

39StepsNATCHITOCHES – Johnathan Portier is normally focused on making others look good. But this time Portier is in the spotlight as a member of the cast of “The 39 Steps,” which opens Tuesday night at Northwestern State University.

Northwestern State University Theatre and Dance will perform “The 39 Steps” Oct. 2-4 and Oct. 9-12 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 13 at 2 p.m. in Theatre West. Tickets are $15 and $12 those age 65 and over and children age 12 and under. A package of five tickets is available for $50. Reservations are required. To reserve a seat or get more information, call (318) 357-4483 or e-mail normanj@nsula.edu.

“The 39 Steps” is adapted from the John Buchan novel by Patrick Barlow and originally conceived by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon.

The play mixes a Hitchcock masterpiece with a juicy spy novel, and a dash of Monty Python to create a fast-paced whodunit. “The 39 Steps” is a two-time winner of the Tony and Drama Desk Award. The cast of five plays more than 150 characters and features an on-stage plane crash, handcuffs, missing fingers and romance.

Portier, a senior theatre major from Slidell plays of Richard Hannay. Fellow cast members are Cory Germany and Maria Hefte of Covington, Matt Richardson of Fayetteville, Ark., and Grace Vogel of Metairie as clowns.

“I’m the only one in the cast that plays one part,” said Portier. “It can be difficult at times to remember who is playing what role, but they use different personalities, costumes or dialect in each role.”

Portier said his character is a 37-year-old Englishman who has spent time in Canada and is in his majesty’s employment in England.

“His life is boring and he is looking for excitement and finds it,” said Portier.
“He is quick witted and sarcastic and sees himself as the most interesting man in the world. Richard thinks he is a ladies man even though he is quite clumsy, but it works out for him.”

Portier has appeared in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “The Three Penny Opera,” at Northwestern State. Normally, he is part of the technical crew working on lighting and the set. His interest in theatre didn’t develop until his junior year in high school.

“This is the most lines I’ve ever had so this is new territory for me,” said Portier, a graduate of Slidell High School. “I’m mainly a lighting designer, but when I see a play I am interested in, I try out. Technical work, such as lighting or set design appeals to me. I love math and science and things such as making precise measurements or building structures. I know the average theatregoer may not notice the lighting or set design, but another technical designer will. I am showcasing my work for other professionals. “

Portier first came to Northwestern State when a group from Slidell High attended the annual Louisiana Thespian Festival hosted by NSU.

“Each year, my high school attends the State Thespian Festival. I enjoyed the campus and saw that Northwestern State had the best undergraduate theatre program in the state. It wasn’t much of a decision. I just asked ‘Where do I sign?’  I’ve been happy with my time here and I still have time to learn.”

Working on sets and lighting has taught Portier the importance of completing a task on time.

“When I do technical work, I want to know that I put out a quality product and was able to turn an original idea into something which was implemented,” said Portier. “I know that when the cast takes their bows, the applause is for everyone who put the show together. Being on the receiving end of the applause is part of the appeal for me.”

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