On May 12, the New Dramatists honored Audra McDonald at their 67th Annual Spring Luncheon fundraiser. The organization provides a seven-year commitment, including space and financial support, to resident playwrights in order to give them the time to focus on the development of new work. Alumni include Sarah Ruhl (In the Next Room), Quiara Alegría Hudes (In The Heights) and Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Baker (The Flick), as well as David Lindsay-Abaire, Douglas Wright and August Wilson.
While the event was very much about this year’s honoree, an actress whose name and talent define the genre of today's American musical theatre, that honoree was very much about supporting new dramatic work. “It’s everything,” McDonald says. “We have to continue to replenish the art that is theatre, otherwise we [actors] have nothing to do. We can’t survive on just revivals, and I think the New Dramatists mission of really giving a playwright time to develop and time to read a whole seven years is so necessary … so that they can create the art and get the art out so then we have manna with which to work.”
McDonald has won a record-breaking six Tony Awards—inclusive of all four acting categories—and appears on Broadway as Lottie Gee in Shuffle Along today. She does not rest on her laurels or ride the coattails of her own name. For McDonald, there is always a desire to push more, learn more, teach more.
Photos! Audra McDonald Honored by New Dramatists
“I just am fascinated by these ladies,” says McDonald of the many women she’s inhabited onstage over the years. “I find them so inspirational and so much to learn from them…. and also because these ladies are so deep and there is so much depth to who they are, I know that will challenge me as an artist trying to find out who they are and all the layers that make them up.”
McDonald’s artistic reputation proceeds her. So what is it that is so special about her performances? What is it that McDonald does that others only aim to do?
“She’s got talent coming out of every pore of her body,” says her current Shuffle Along and former Ragtime co-star Brian Stokes Mitchell, who sang in her honor at the luncheon. “She’s an incredible singer, an incredible actress, she’s a really really hard worker—which I think is the real secret—and she loves it and she’s got really excellent taste in her choices and what she does, and she’s got a great heart and that comes through her work.
“She loves people,” he continues. “She loves humanity and that spirit comes through what she does. That’s what you see and I think that really on top of all her incredible singing technique and acting technique, that’s what she does that comes through.”
Ruthie Fierberg is the Features Editor at Playbill.com. She has also written for Backstage, Parents and American Baby, including dozens of interviews with celeb moms and dads for parents.com. See more at ruthiefierberg.com and follow her on Twitter at @RuthiesATrain.