‘A wild ride’: Theater student embraces change, finds community at WSU


Kristy Mace

Alexys Porter, the stage manager for the Wichita Contemporary Dance Theatre Concert and Film, meets with the crew before the Friday night showing.

Wichita State wasn’t Alexys Porter’s first choice and neither was being a theater major, but she couldn’t imagine her school and major any other way now. 

Porter, also earning a certificate in stage management, planned to move away for college, but when her grandfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she decided to stay at home to be close to him.

Even though the school wasn’t her first choice, she had an older sister who had attended, and Porter still thought Wichita State was a good school.

“I’ve always had high opinions of WSU,” Porter said. “I grew up watching WSU basketball.”

When Porter got to WSU, she enrolled as a business major, but right before the pandemic hit, she became sick and was in and out of the hospital. 

“It kind of really made me stop and like look at my life, and I wasn’t happy with what I was doing,” Porter said. “I wasn’t enjoying going to school, and I had always loved going to school.”

Porter knew it was time for a change. 

“I was like ‘when was the last time like I remember myself being truly happy with where I was going my life?’” Porter said. “It was when I was in the theater and so I made the switch.”

Porter had to have an emergency gallbladder surgery, and later found out she has POTS, a disease that can affect the heart.

Constantly being out of the cardiologists’ and doctors’ offices made her think, “Why waste four years of my life doing something that I don’t absolutely love?”

Porter was actively involved in theater in high school, but never considered it an option to pursue as a career.

“I very much, growing up, had that mindset that art was a hobby, not a job,” Porter said. 

While Porter had performed on stage in high school, she preferred the stage management aspect.

“I’ve always been (a) very type-A person,” Porter said. “I love making things run smoothly.”

Throughout Porter’s years at WSU, she’s taken on various leadership roles, and is currently a student assistant in the office of School of Performing, as well as being a stage manager for shows such as the “Wichita Contemporary Dance Theatre Concert.”

Cheyla Clawson, Director of the School of Performing Arts, said Porter has qualities that are rare to find.

“She’s able to see, like, a big picture (and) at the same time be very detailed,” Clawson said. 

Clawson added that Porter is a facilitator and community builder because she can see what’s important and what the community needs, while valuing others’ opinions and input.

“She just can do so much at once, and it’s pretty brilliant,” Clawson said.

Reflecting back on her college experience, Porter said “college has been a wild ride.”

When she came to the university, she was searching for a community and she got to experience that a little when she switched to being a theater major, but then the pandemic hit. However, once students got to go back to school, Porter said she found that community.

“There’s something so unique and amazing about just the community that’s created here within this school,” Porter said.

Porter said that being able to work with women who are powerful leaders helped shape her into who she is today, as she wasn’t too confident in herself when she entered college.

“I’m a lot more confident in my abilities. When I walk into a room, I know that I deserve to be there now … That’s a lot of growth for me,” Porter said. “In theater, I know that I’m good at what I do, but I also know I have so much to learn, and that is so refreshing to be able to say ‘I’m good at where I’m at, but I can also still grow.’”

Sarah Bussard, Program Director for Tech & Design, said Porter has grown as a person and an artist.

“She feels really confident about speaking out not just for herself, but like advocating for other students,” Bussard said. 

Bussard said Porter has a humility about her, and it’s one of the reasons she’s been able to jump so far ahead because she’s able to admit where she needs to learn.

“Once she kind of was able to process the emotional reaction of ‘this didn’t go well, and I’m upset about it,’” Bussard said. “She was able to jump right back in and figure out how to solve the problem.”

After Porter graduates this May, she’s attending graduate school for production and project management at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA).

She said it’ll be a big culture shock, as she’s never left home. 

“I’m super excited for her,” Clawson said, “But I’m just as, if not more, excited for them (UNCSA) for making it the right choice to have her.”

Porter said her end goal is to work in academia as one of her life mottos is “give back what gives to you.”

“Academic theater has given so much to me,” Porter said. 

This year, Porter has been able to help mentor some of the younger theater students, and watching them be successful and helping them find their passion has been an aspect Porter has enjoyed. 

“I want to do that for the rest of my life,” Porter said.

“She’s the sort of person who, other students aren’t necessarily put off by the fact that she’s so good at her job because she’s very good at mentoring her own students and kind of welcoming them in,” Bussard said.

Bussard said that because of Porter’s temperament and personality, students will come to Porter for her opinion because they trust her experience. 

“To be so happy and feel so loved with where I’m at right now, it just feels worth it,” Porter said. “WSU wasn’t my plan, theater wasn’t my plan, but I cannot imagine doing theater anywhere else but here.”