Seana McKenna’s MFA & Pre-Acting Days

Here’s some news about our theatre columnist, Seana McKenna:

 

     Seana McKenna was awarded an honourary Master of Fine Arts degree in Acting from the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) in San Francisco on May 18. Seana played the title role in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s 2009 production of Phèdre, which was co-produced with A.C.T. and directed by A.C.T.’s Artistic Director, Carey Perloff. The production played in San Francisco in January.

     Seana has been a leading player at Stratford for 19 seasons with feature roles ranging from Medea to Juliet, Amanda Wingfield to Amanda Prynne and Andromache to Anne Hathaway. This season she will thrill audiences once again with her performances as La Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons and Paulina in The Winter’s Tale.

     “Seana McKenna is a remarkable talent, and I’ve been her loyal fan since she was in theatre school and I got to work with her here at Stratford in my first Festival production. It was abundantly clear that she was destined for great things,” says Artistic Director Des McAnuff. “Her commitment to every part and the authenticity she brings to each role are quite extraordinary. She is most deserving of this honourary degree.”

 

     When I saw this news release, I was reminded of the days before Seana’s acting career began, when she was in fact considering whether to try and enter the field of acting at all. I first met Seana in residence in our first year of university at Trinity College, University of Toronto. She was doing exceedingly well academically as a student of English literature, and we sometimes talked about our essay assignments. Then one day she approached a group of her friends after dinner and asked us if we would be her audience while she tried out her audition piece for the National Theatre School in Montreal.

     We took our coffee and tea cups and joined her in Cartwright Hall, the theatre for St. Hilda’s College, our residence building. We were prepared to be supportive and encouraging. Dressed in a long black skirt, holding a big umbrella, she gave a monologue from The Lady of Shallot. Coffee and tea grew cold in our cups. Some of us were frozen, cups held halfway to our lips, our mouths open. From her first words she had us enraptured, unable to move. When she said “That’s it,” and relaxed her posture, our hands shook with haste to put down our cups and applaud.

     That was her audition piece for the National Theatre School, and of course she was accepted, and that is where she went for the next few years, and she has worked as an acclaimed actor ever since. She didn’t get a degree from U. of T. with the rest of us, but now she has an honourary MFA from the U.S.

     Which of her performances have impressed you? Do you have early memories of Seana’s acting? Misty, Kim, Julia, I’m hoping you’ll share yours!

 

     If you’re interested in Seana McKenna, you may like to read one of her columns for Escarpment Views: “Seana’s View: Backstage at Stratford.” She’s written several other columns for us as well.

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4 Responses to Seana McKenna’s MFA & Pre-Acting Days

  1. Julia Soong June 1, 2010 at 3:33 pm #

    How often I’ve remembered Seana’s performance that evening . . . the way it surprised and inspired. Still does! What a brilliant, humble, charming friend we have 🙂 Thanks Gloria, and warm greetings to Kim (and Misty too of course). Julia

  2. Kim June 14, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    While many of my memories of our days at Snildas are murky at best, my recollection of Seana’s practice audition are clear and confirm the wonder that her talent invoked. I have been priviledged to see her perform since (though not as frequently as I would like) most recently here in SF when she played Phedre at ACT (a renown theater that had the good sense to award her the MFA! Bravo!) Thanks for the blog Gloria and best to all of you, Kim

  3. Misty Ingraham June 18, 2010 at 1:52 pm #

    Weeks before I attended the impromptu gathering of friends at St. Hilda’s residence to see Seana’s practice audition for the National Theatre School, I had already experienced her talent first-hand and on stage. I had a medium-sized role in Brecht’s Gallileo;Seana picked a bit part to play. We did not rehearse much together because all she needed to know was the blocking for her entrance and exit from the scene. It was not until we were actually live on performance night and on stage together, that I recognized the power of her extraordinary talent. I felt struck by a force field of energy that ran throughout my body like a benign lightening bolt! The line between amateur and professional was clear. I would not quit my day-job and she should be an actor forever. Fortunately for the world of theatre, she has dedicated her life to crafting memorable roles that translate to every audience that sees them!

  4. Gloria Hildebrandt June 18, 2010 at 2:00 pm #

    I remember that “bit” part that Seana played as being Galileo as a child — a boy!

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