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Tony Award winner visits Saint Mary’s

Ashley Charnley | Tuesday, November 9, 2010

In recent years, Saint Mary’s students have welcomed various theater professionals to the college, including actor Glenn Close and comedian Lily Tomlin. Tony Award-winner and Broadway actress Donna McKechnie joined that list when she hosted a master class for students Monday.

“How fortunate we are that our students are able to learn from the masters like Donna McKechnie and Lily Tomlin, both Tony Award winning-actresses,” Mark Abram-Copenhaver, a theatre professor at the College, said in a press release. “Ms. McKechnie is a master of not only the theater, but of what makes theatre sing — music and dance.”

McKechnie, who teaches an acting class in New York, told the students in Monday’s class why teaching others to act is important to her.

“My job in a class with students I teach in New York is to ask them, ‘How do we make this more real for you?'” McKechnie said.

She said it is important to personalize a role and not to let fear cause hesitation.

“We have to stay out of our own way,” she said.

McKenchie won a Tony Award for best actress for her role as Cassie in “Chorus Line,” according to the press release. Other credits include “On the Town,” “Promises, Promises” and “State Fair.”

“My soapbox in life is American musical theater,” McKechnie said. “I learned with people who are incredible. I am a professional student and I have studied and I will continue to study.”

During master class, held in the studio in Regina Hall’s basement, four Saint Mary’s theater students came before McKechnie and performed a musical number each had been working on, and she supplied them feedback.

After each performance, McKechnie gave the student direction and they worked through the song with her.

Throughout the musical numbers, McKechnie said students need to put their fear aside.

“We try to show because we aren’t in complete relaxation with ourselves,” she said. “Really feel it before you say it. It’s not about pain, it’s about freeing ourselves.”

McKechnie said the difficulty in acting is bringing all the elements together.

“We’re integrating the words and the feeling and all of this,” she said. “That’s why it’s so complicated.”