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Audra McDonald Inspires Theatre Students at Howard University’s Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts

Tony Award-winning singer and actress shared insights on what it takes to succeed in theatre, TV, and film

Audra McDonald addresses students in Ira Aldridge Theater on January 31

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Renowned actress and singer Audra McDonald visited the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts on January 31, leaving a lasting impact on students in the department of theatre arts. McDonald, a record-breaking six Tony Award-winning artist who recently played alongside Aunjanue Ellis, Neicy Nash and others in Ava Duvernay’s film "Origin,” took the stage at Ira Aldridge Theater on Howard University's campus to share her journey as a Black woman in the arts. 

During her insightful and inspiring talk moderated by theatre arts professor Michael McElroy, McDonald emphasized that a career in professional theatre is about more than fame and glamour. She highlighted the importance of discipline and consistent work, nothing that a touch of luck doesn’t hurt either.  

“Technique, craft, and discipline are constant,” McDonald shared with a captivated audience of students and faculty. “I am still taking voice lessons at 52, and I've been performing since I was three years old. It’s a constant, constant discipline. That's just what you have to accept if you want to be a performer.”  

Howard students listen as Audra McDonald shares her perspectives in Ira Aldridge Theater

Students listen as Audra McDonald shares her perspective in Ira Aldridge Theater

McDonald visited Howard’s campus while in Washington D.C. for a two-night concert with the National Symphony Orchestra at The Kennedy Center. She described her approach to the concert and shared how her training as both a singer and actress informs her craft. 

“We work really hard to curate the performance,” she said. “I have to hone in on my singing skills, but also, the ability to tell a full story with each song... I think that has to do with my theatre work, where you have to be really specific about drawing people into the character. That work in TV and film informs my performance.” 

The conversation then shifted to McDonald's reflections on the lack of diversity in the industry. She acknowledged that people of color have long been aware of the underrepresentation of diverse voices in theatre and the arts and praised organizations like Black Theatre United, who work to raise awareness and promote inclusivity in all areas of the field, from decision-making roles to creative positions and technical aspects. She emphasized the need for safer spaces and greater representation, stating, “We're starting to be recognized for the fact that we belong in the space. But when the pendulum swings one way, it always swings the other way.”  

McDonald also drew attention to setbacks faced by the TV and film industry in telling Black stories and hiring diverse talent. She highlighted the importance of sustained efforts in promoting diversity, cautioning against complacency and a return to the status quo. “We have to keep pushing that it's not enough,” McDonald asserted. 

McDonald, who also serves on the board of Covenant House, an organization that works with homeless youth, expressed her determination to create more opportunities for the next generation.  

She also shared her insights on balancing the emotional demands of playing intense characters while taking care of herself. McDonald emphasized that self-care is a constant and evolving journey, influenced by her own journey in motherhood and lessons she learned from watching mentors who juggled their careers and motherhood too. “I have to model self-care, so [my children] learn that self-care is important,” she explained. “It's not just what you say, it's what you do.”  

Students took a seat next to McDonald to ask questions

Students pulled up a seat next to McDonald to ask questions about her journey

Addressing a question from Tyler M. Patterson, a first-year musical theatre major from Columbus, Ga., McDonald revealed that, despite having led a successful career, she still has dreams of roles that have yet to be written. She stressed the importance of pushing theatre forward and creating roles that inspire new generations, sharing her desire to see more roles about Black composers. 

McDonald's visit to the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts was a catalyzing moment for students, inspiring them to pursue their dreams with dedication and resilience. Hannah Jackson, junior music business major from Douglassville, Ga. said the talk was extremely informative and reminded her why she’s happy to be a student at Howard.  

“These are the types of experiences that make me so happy that I go to Howard,” Jackson said. “This is so impactful to me as a student. What I'm taking away from this is the importance of having good people in your corner.”   


Media Contact: Misha Cornelius; misha.cornelius@howard.edu

About Howard University 

Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university comprising 14 schools and colleges. Students pursue more than 140 programs of study leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. The University operates with a commitment to Excellence in Truth and Service and has produced three Schwarzman Scholars, four Marshall Scholars, four Rhodes Scholars, 12 Truman Scholars, 25 Pickering Fellows and more than 165 Fulbright recipients. Howard also produces more on-campus African American Ph.D. recipients than any other university in the United States. For more information on Howard University, visit www.howard.edu