Audra McDonald on Growing Up in Theater and Making Tony Award History

When Audra McDonald won the Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for her role in Porgy & Bess, she made history. She was the first African American actress to have won five Tony Awards and she will also tie with Julie Harris and Angela Lansbury for most wins by an actress.

But McDonald doesn’t spend too much time worrying about whether she’ll win.

In an interview with PBS.org, she said, “It’s an incredible honor, but it’s not something I can think about a lot.  It’s not why you do it.  I didn’t set out to win a Tony Award.  I just wanted to be on Broadway.  That’s what I wanted.  I said, ‘I want to be on Broadway, and then once I got to Broadway I want to be a better actress than I am.  I want to be a better singer, I want to explore different roles, I want to learn how to access deep emotion and get into the psyche of different characters.’”

Growing up, McDonald knew that she wanted to be an entertainer.  She said, “I started performing when I was about 9 years old in a dinner theater in my hometown of Fresno, Calif.  I knew basically then the thing I enjoyed doing and felt happy I was doing it and fulfilled.  I knew that at an early age, so I pursued it from an early age on.”

Since then, McDonald has shown an incredible range, appearing in films, onstage, and on TV in ABC’s Private Practice.  The actress noted that she doesn’t necessarily have a preference.  “But I started in live theater and so that’s always home for me, because that’s how I got my start.  Television came much, much later and I like it and I love the challenge of it.  Watching all different aspects of a crew and the actors and the sets and then seeing it all come together is fascinating, but I think the live theater feels like home to me because that’s just what came first.”

Despite the theater feeling like home, McDonald has no intentions of stagnating in her career.  She said, “I hope I’m not at the peak.  It’s all about continuing to grow as an artist, so my goal is to keep on growing and discovering as an artist and improving.  Discovery is what’s most important to me, so I just want to keep going.  I want to do more Shakespeare.  I want to do more traditional plays, and I just want to keep growing.”

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