Karen MacDonald’s 2010 Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence Acceptance Speech

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series 2010 Elliot Norton Awards
Karen MacDonald

Karen MacDonald accepting the 2010 Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence at the 2010 Elliot Norton Award Ceremony. Photo by Sooz.

2010 Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence Acceptance Speech. Delivered by Karen MacDonald to the Boston Theatre Community at the Paramount Theatre, May 17, 2010.

“The theatre is so endlessly fascinating because it is so accidental. It’s so much like life.”

I had written that quote of Arthur Miller’s in my script of All My Sons this past season, because it really struck a chord.

I guess I feel that my life in the theatre has been a kind of accident. A very happy accident. The theatre has fascinated me since I was 9 years old and I became part of a children’s theatre company. A new kid, in a new town in summer, I found great comfort in its magic, its secrets and in being a storyteller, out on the stage, where I felt oddly comfortable. And that’s when it hooked me… for life.

I am sure that’s true for so many of us in this room tonight. We know what it was like to be a theatre geek, the kind of kid, who would rather spend their weekends inside, rehearsing and building sets, than doing the usual stuff.

And even then, it was being part of a company, a group of people who got me and were like me, that made it feel like home.

Maybe that’s a key to this happy accident of a career. How lucky I have been all these years to be in such good company so often.

Because it is in company that we do what we do best. Actors, directors, designers, stage management and crew work together to give life to a story and tell it in their own unique way.

I was in such good company at Boston University, where I was fortunate enough to have teachers, who made no bones about letting us know how hard a life we were choosing, how becoming an actor was a life long ongoing process and who armed us with technique and heart and courage. I still keep a picture of Rose Schulman, my fierce Jewish- grandmother-of a teacher on my dressing room table. Somehow her staring out at me, keeps me in line.

In my first job, at the proposition and then at the Next Move Theatre, I was lucky to be in the company of brilliant, funny, generous people who taught me so much, improvising night after night.

And then for many years, I was blessed to be part of Robert Brustein’s company. Where I worked with amazing artists on great classics and new plays and got to travel the world besides.

And many times throughout the years, but most especially during this past season, I have been privileged to be in the company of so many terrific artists from Boston and the New England area

It’s been a boon for me to be in the company of so many gifted people, playing with them and learning from them. We people of the theatre are a weird kind of family, a strange group, to outsiders perhaps. They always ask us:

Why do we do what we do?

We don’t do theatre because it will make us rich or famous, or because it’s easy and always fun, or because we want to work 6 days a week, we do it because we have to.

It’s in our blood. It’s in our hearts. It’s our passion. And like any passion, it nurtures us, it starves us. It’s cruel, it’s kind. It’s heaven. It’s hell. It nearly kills us, and sometimes it saves our lives.

I recall a 4-month period during which first, one of my dearest friends and then my stepfather died suddenly, both when I was performing in a show. I will always remember the kindness, the caring and the strength of my fellow actors, wrapping me up in their arms, (emotionally and physically) just getting me through moment by moment. It was good to be reminded that I had a job to do; I had to keep moving forward. My work saved my life in those difficult moments.

And we all have stories like that. We can be honest with each other about what a life in the theatre demands, the price it exacts sometimes and the rewards that it comes with. But no matter it’s difficulties, I have always considered myself very fortunate to be able to do what I love.

But I’ve had some serious help along the way

I want to thank my Mom, my Dad (wish you could be here) my sister, Felicia, my brother Chris and many of my dearest friends who are here tonight, for all your love and support through the years. It has meant so much.

I thank my many teachers for all of the lessons (hopefully) learned.

I thank my fellow Next Movers, who are here tonight, Martin and Lanie for your inspiration and friendship.

I want to thank Robert Brustein, Robert Woodruff and Gideon Lester for giving me an artistic home for so long and for some of the greatest roles and greatest challenges of my life. And where would I have been without my fellows? Too many to mention, but especially Jeremy, Tommy, Tony, Cherry, Will, Remo, and Paula, thank you.

I want to thank Eric Engel, Anita Stewart, Peter Du Bois, Kate Warner and Charles Towers for making me so welcome in their theatres this past season, a year of huge change for me. Change can be hard, but may I say personally, change is good!

Most of all, I want to thank my sweet Dave, my partner, my friend, my love. My own personal Sound Designer. For all of your support, your guidance, your good humor, your great coffee every morning, for loving me no matter what…
How can I ever say enough?

To all of the Norton committee I thank you for this honor. It means a great deal at this particular moment in my career. I see it as a challenge to continue to do good work. I shall strive to do my best.

And finally, to all the young theatre artists sitting here tonight, I’d like you to Look around this theatre and see the people like me, and there are a lot of them, people who have been doing this for a long time and are still going strong.
We say to you: Embrace your artistic life, don’t let yourself get discouraged, don’t let anyone tell you that a life in the theatre isn’t worth the cost or worth the reward.

As Anton Chekhov said: “An Artist’s flair is sometimes worth a scientist’s brains.”

So, to all of my fellow artists, let’s let our flair fly! Let’s keep the theatre vital and alive! Let’s keep telling our stories! People will always need them!

I am so proud to be a part of this amazing community. Thank You. Your source for news and information about Boston Theatre. Join our email list, follow us on Twitter @exploretheatre and become a fan on Facebook.

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