10 Questions With… Audra McDonald
1. What was your “aha” moment when you realized you were meant to be a performer?
I was 7 years old and given a solo in the kids’ church choir. I had to stand up, turn around, face the congregation and sing the solo. I remember the butterflies in my stomach before I sang and then the joy and excitement I felt after I performed. I wanted to get back to that again because it made me feel a certain way.
2. You’ve won Tonys, Grammys and Emmys, were awarded the National Medal of the Arts, and were inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. What makes a role or performance one that makes you say yes?
It’s a feeling in my stomach and, many times, it’s something that scares me. If it scares me, it means I’m attracted to something that’s going to challenge me and make me grow. It will be fulfilling — not necessarily successful, but fulfilling.
3. Is there anything you’re still hoping to tick off your list?
There’s always the musical or play that hasn’t been written yet. I would like to do more Shakespeare and theater. As long as I keep getting to play in the theater, I’m happy.
4. Your work has encouraged diversity in casting. Is that something you consciously set out to do?
It was part of my particular experience from an early age. As I found success, I realized it was happening more and more, and something I wanted to encourage in whatever way I could to create more voices, stories and diversity.
5. Who inspires you as a person or performer?
Lena Horne was someone who inspired me greatly, both as a performer and as an activist. Getting to work with Zoe Caldwell and seeing her work ethic, incredible talent and dedication to the art of theater was inspirational. Judy Garland’s talent is unmatched, but what made her even more special was her vulnerability as an artist and how she gave her heart and soul to her audiences. She turned herself inside out for her audiences and that’s something I’ve always admired.
I know it sounds touristy, but there is something about going to see the Grand Canyon and the perspective it gives you. Everything else is so much bigger than you are and that’s O.K. It’s awe-inspiring and puts you in your place in a very grounded way. It’s quite calming and inspiring.
7. What do you think people would be surprised to know about you?
I became an amateur gardener when the earth started calling to me during the pandemic. I don’tknow what I’m doing, but I’m obsessed with it! It’s chaotic but so grounding. If I don’t touch the dirt for a few days, I get grumpy. It’s been life-changing for me.
8. Knowing what you know now about life and show business, what would you go back and tell the little girl from Fresno who was moving cross-country to study at Juilliard?
Everything you feel that is weird about you is special and wonderful. Love and nurture that about yourself.
9. What’s giving you joy these days in terms of art, music or TV?
I’ve been reading Toni Morrison and just reread “Song of Solomon.” It rocked me to my core.
10. You’re actively involved in supporting many causes. In 2020, you were part of an industry group that launched a new organization — Black Theatre United. Can you talk about the nonprofit and why it’s important to you?
Black Theatre United was created in the wake of George Floyd’s murder to bring accountability, awareness and action in creating safer and more diverse spaces in the world, especially within theater. We support anti-racist space and encourage all voices in an industry where there weren’t always many Black voices. One of the things we’re most proud of is gathering all the theater owners, producers, directors, choreographers, creators and designers to create a new deal for Broadway to change some of these issues within the community. We were able to get a lot of very powerful people to sign on and pledge to work to change the industry.