“You can take singing and acting and separate them, but I like to put them together. They’re very vulnerable talents.”
Caroline Portu, A&S ’16—who has made a name for herself on campus by singing at the football games, winning BC Idol in 2013, and even performing at last Friday’s Pops on The Heights—is a lot like her song-writing hero, Sara Bareilles.
“It’s never a show with her,” said Portu. “It’s never about the glitz and the glamour—it’s just about her and her art.”
Last semester, the New Hampshire native returned to the BC Idol stage, not behind her piano for the competition, but with the children’s choir of St. Columbkille School to sing the Bareilles hit, “Brave,” and raise money for the annual benefit. The performance wasn’t flashy. It was an honest moment with the audience, a moment of meaning.
For Portu, a singer and actress, performance is about connecting crafts and purposefully connecting with the audience. “You can take singing and acting and separate them, but I like to put them together,” she said. “They’re very vulnerable talents. Even some of the runs and trills that you can put into your voice, they mean something.”
Although it’s harder to interpret a song like the “Star Spangled Banner,” Portu enjoys the opportunity to be in front of an excited crowd of fans just the same. The first time she performed the national anthem in Conte Forum for the 2012 BC versus Notre Dame hockey match made her a little nervous, but with all the practice, she says that singing at the games for football season is like second nature or “muscle memory” to her at this point.
“I love doing it, but I’ve sung it a lot—and outside of BC, too,” she said. “I don’t think I could forget the words if I tried—go, America.”
At BC, Portu is involved with the theatre and athletic departments, The Acoustics, and the 10:15 p.m. masses, which she says she enjoys because the environment is so laidback that she could wear pajamas if she wanted. Outside of school, she sings in a wedding jazz band, auditions for TV pilots, and appears in glossy-paged fashion magazines. With those commitments, and an overloaded schedule of courses to complete her Perspectives and Theatre double major, Portu has had to decide what’s most important to her.
“While it’s definitely hard to find the time for all this, it’s my priority,” Portu said. “I’m okay with eating dinner while I walk home or missing a certain event to pursue something else.”
Portu, a fan of Big Fish and Billy Joel, has always liked being active and filling her time with the things she cares about. As a freshman, she walked down Linden Lane for the Activities Fair, offering her email address to nearly every club—as most first year students do—that seemed like a good outlet for performing. What set Portu apart from the majority of her overly ambitious peers, though, is that not only did she sign up for all of these groups, she actually became a member of them, too.
“I look back and think how that had to be the craziest week of my life because I auditioned for so many things. I still get emails from practically every organization on campus,” she said.
Being in the spotlight has never made Portu too nervous. She’s performed at a Nascar summer event for around 20,000 people, at the Beanpot, and just last weekend, for a large crowd at the Pops on the Heights scholarship gala, where she sang the Wicked hit, “For Good,” with the Boston Pops.
“They were the best backup band I’ve ever had—it was incredible and the song was so sentimental,” she said.
Even when Portu was younger, she enjoyed being the center of attention. She’d organize concerts for her parents and family, compete in talent and variety shows, and even sing impromptu during her piano lessons for her teacher.
Her big break came in elementary school, when Portu debuted her Irish accent in a play titled Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato. “I don’t know if someone was cast as the potato,” says Portu, who played Mrs. O’Rourke, “but there definitely might have been somebody.” The show was the first time Portu says she remembers her teachers telling her mom and dad that she should seriously consider acting.
Portu—who’s obsessed with Brett Eldredge and a self-proclaimed “northern country bumpkin”—has supportive parents and talented siblings. Her oldest brother plays the piano and saxophone, and is, by her definition, the king of marching band, while her little brother is athletic and good at the drums. Her mom, Portu says, likes to believe she can sing, and her dad, although not vocally or instrumentally skilled, is always willing to listen and offer constructive criticism.
“People used to make fun of us and call us the Partridge Family,” she said.
Portu’s latest project is preparing for her role as the heroine of The Trojan Women, which premiers in Robsham next month. The play, according to Portu, is depressing because it’s about war and death. “If you’re not dead by the end of it, you’re a prostitute,” she said of the characters. “I play Helen of Troy—so basically, I have to mess everything up while still looking good.”
Although Portu is eagerly anticipating the opening of the show, the musicals she’s appeared in at BC—Godspell and The Drowsy Chaperone—are more in line with what she hopes to do after graduation since they allow her to fuse her love for singing and acting and reach people in a more dynamic way.
Portu has her eyes on a musical theatre career in New York, but she hasn’t settled on one thing just yet. Film, music, and even sketch comedy are still on the table. “It’s really hard to choose what to do,” Portu said. “My excuse is that they’re all connected, but I think you need to choose something to be good at.”
While she’s been at BC, Portu has demonstrated that even though she has the voice of a pop star, she has the heart of a songwriter—she’s part Aguilera, part Bareilles. She approaches her art with power and authenticity and isn’t afraid to make herself vulnerable for her audience. If you’ve seen her on stage, you’ve seen her be brave.
Featured Image by John Wiley / Heights Editor