Tony Award-winner Renée Elise Goldsberry visited Northeastern University on Tuesday, January 17, as part of the Department of Theatre’s NU Broadway visiting artist series. Ms. Goldberry received the Tony, the Drama Desk Award, and the Lucille Lortel Award for her performance as Angelica Schuyler Church in cultural phenomenon Hamilton. Before she performed at the university’s Martin Luther King Day celebration, she gave a master class for theatre students. Through it all, she dazzled with her warmth, her approachability, and her honest care for our students.
Ms. Goldsberry participated in a Q&A with Chair Scott Edmiston about her life and career, then worked with students Christie Chen, Lauren Teixeira, and Madison McDaniel on two monologues and a song in a master class format. We learned a lot, in particular that she is a master at being all class. But let’s let the students tell it:
Carla Mirabal Rodríguez, who served as Ms. Goldberry’s host:
When I was asked to be Renée Elise Goldsberry’s student host, I honestly wanted to ask someone to pinch me awake because I couldn’t believe it. But it wasn’t a dream! It actually happened! And it was absolutely incredible. I believe this experience was so special to me because I’ve been a fan of hers for so long. To get the chance to meet her and learn from her was absolutely priceless. Something she said that resonated very strongly with me was that it is important for young actors to hear about the times when the actors they admire had failed, so they could see that everyone goes through that, and it doesn’t mean they’ll never succeed. Having the chance to meet her was an absolute honor, she’s truly kind and generous; this was definitely an experience I will never forget.
What made this master class so special was that Renée was so down to earth and real. Although I was hanging on her every word, I felt that she was having a conversation with each and every one of us. Everything she had to say was carefully thought out but simultaneously completely genuine. Aside from her story about being pulled into the cast of The Lion King as Nala, which was hilarious and refreshing, I will especially remember what she had to say about the theater being like the church. She said we need Theatre like some people need the church: there is just something supernatural and powerful about it. As a person who is spiritual but not religious, I think Renée captured and conveyed that thought beautifully. My biggest takeaway is that it is really okay to take my time. This applies to a rehearsal process, classes, or even just life, but especially in auditions. After watching my monologue the first time, she told me that if I want to take a few seconds before speaking, just for me, that it’s completely allowed. She said that everyone in the room is already there watching me, and they want me to do well, so taking time will actually draw them in more and help me center myself. I am amazed at how she managed to make such an impact in such a short amount of time.
What made this performance special was Renée. The fact that I got to perform for such an accomplished actress was incredible. I knew that I had this—call it a quirk—when I perform. I tend to speak as if I already know what’s going to happen next, which is pretty common when you perform the same piece over and over again. Renée talked to me about finding a way to not do that, to make it seem like I’m saying everything for the first time. I don’t necessarily know what my character is going to do or say next because, in this kind of rant-monologue, she doesn’t either. It was something I didn’t realize I was doing and, after she pointed it out, the monologue took an entirely different direction. She also made one statement that has resonated with me, and that was: “Go after what you want. Never apologize.” At this time, in this culture, I feel like many of us have this need to apologize for who we are and what we want, and it was really refreshing to hear her say that. Sometimes we all need someone to look us in the eye and tell us to keep going. Yes, the road we chose to walk is hard, but keep going.
I think performing for Renée is going to be one of the most memorable moments of my college career. What an incredible honor to be able to get feedback from such an accomplished artist, who obviously knows what she is talking about. One thing that was really special was how invested the rest of the audience was as well. It felt like everyone was rooting for each other, which was pretty incredible. I loved watching the other participants and seeing them really take in the feedback and be able to perform their pieces better because of it. For me personally, I was able to feel validated in my choices and give myself permission to make those choices more boldly in the future. Having someone like Renée say “good job” is a pretty good feeling, and she really said to me to make bigger choices, to allow myself to do the things I was already thinking of doing. Performing for the second time and seeing how the reaction to the piece changed in a really positive way gives me a ton of motivation for the future.