Audra McDonald

A Voice for Change

]

by Lee Roscoe

 Six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald— the only actor to be so awarded—is thrilled to be performing once again for the Art House’s [email protected] Hall series this Memorial Day weekend. She says, “We’ve taken the children here many times. It’s obviously a beautiful place. I love that it is such an open and accepting community, its diversity; the joy and color of what you see walking down the streets, the food!”

As in past shows here, Seth Rudetsky, Sirius XM Radio star and aficionado of all things Broadway, will be the pianist and host. McDonald says the two have been friends for 30 years and he knows her entire repertoire. He’s apt to suggest just about anything for her to sing from the American songbook, “from the 1930s to now; it may be Gershwin, Julie Stein, Jason Robert Brown, or Bette Midler. He keeps you on your toes. Between the songs we will tell stories, which creates more intimacy with the audience,” she explains. Seth might ask, “Do you remember when?” and the reminiscing will commence, she adds.

This concert series raises funds for Sandy Hook Promise, which takes action to prevent gun violence with programs which their website says, “teach youth and adults how to prevent school violence, shootings, and other harmful acts.” 

Audra McDonald Portraits. CREDIT: Allison Michael Orenstein

McDonald says, “Any time I can use my voice to raise awareness for different organizations and charities and social justice, then I am going to do it; it makes performing more special when I can do something that benefits other people.”

Activism is a family tradition. “I was born in 1970. I and my family were beneficiaries of the Civil Rights movement. My uncles did sit-ins in the South, my great uncle was very involved with the NAACP. He was supposed to meet with Robert Kennedy in California the day after he was shot—so there’s just kind of a history of activism, of being vocal and of it being necessary. And it’s been important as a parent teaching my children to speak about what they believe in and to help others, and as a member of this society.”

Asked about the Black experience as she sees it, McDonald says, “Systemic racism is pervasive. It’s foundational for this nation; it’s what helped build this country. Diversity in my industry has been lacking for a long time. It needs to be called into account with advocacy and awareness, activation—to do what we can to make change so that we have a diverse group of storytellers, theater makers.”

To that end, McDonald is a founding member of Black Theatre United. She is also involved with aiding the homeless as a board member for Covenant House, and with helping families stranded at the border through Singing You Home, a bilingual music project that helps raise funds for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services(RAICES) and Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP).

While there is more being done, more awareness, she cautions that some states are erasing legislation which protected voting and civil rights, and that “some are saying there is no such thing as systemic racism in this country, which only helps to perpetuate it. We need to call it out, speak at the ballot box and everywhere else we can.”

She says Rudetsky and she will likely touch on some of these matters of justice, especially as immigration, adoption, and LGBTQIA issues are dear to Rudetsky.

McDonald’s vocal and performing range is famous; she acts in TV, movies, and theater; she sings opera, jazz, musicals.  Add to her distinguished career two Grammys, an Emmy, and numerous honors which include a National Medal of Arts given to her by President Obama and selection as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people (2015).  Her credits could fill this whole article. She’s played on Broadway, in London’s West End, and at many opera houses and concert halls around the world. “I am constantly touring,” she says.

She has a starring role in the HBO series, The Gilded Age, written by Julian Fellowes, who also wrote Downton Abbey. “It’s fun to be in a costume drama and to work with Christine Baranski” whom she also acts with in the TV series, The Good Fight.  But there’s activism in her role, too. “I enjoy shedding light on, telling the stories about a whole section of the Black community, which was quite elite and prosperous and successful, one generation away from slavery. The strides made before Reconstruction and during it, before Jim Crow set in, were amazing.” This fall, she adds she’ll be in the Broadway debut of renowned 90-year-old playwright, and author of the groundbreaking Funnyhouse of a Negro, Adrienne Kennedy’s Ohio State Murders.

How she does it all as well as being the mother of two daughters, ages 5 and 21, and the stepmother to two boys, 18 and 21? She says she received wisdom from a director years back to “slice the loaf of bread one slice at a time. I ask, ‘Where am I now?’ Then I put one foot in front of another, one step at a time. My priorities are my husband and children. I know what I would like to do and with whom.”

Audra McDonald
performs at Town Hall, 260 Commercial St.,
Provincetown, Sunday, May 29, 6:30 p.m.

Singer/songwriter
Mellissa Ferrick will be the opening act. For ticket ($75-$200) call 508.487.9222 or visit ptownarthouse.com.