Seana McKenna | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Seana McKenna

Seana McKenna made her Toronto debut in 1980 in The Mac Paps at Toronto Workshop Productions, and in 1981 appeared in the Toronto Free Theatre production of Bertolt Brecht's In the Jungle of Cities.
Seana McKenna
(Photo courtesy Stratford Festival).

Seana McKenna

Seana McKenna, actor, director (b at Toronto 15 Aug 1956). Seana McKenna was raised in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke and in nearby Port Credit. She spent 1 year at the University of Toronto before attending the NATIONAL THEATRE SCHOOL in Montréal until 1979. She made her professional acting debut the same year at the BLYTH FESTIVAL, appearing in This Foreign Land, Child by James Nichol and The Death of the Donnellys. She spent a second season at Blyth in 1980.

Seana McKenna made her Toronto debut in 1980 in The Mac Paps at Toronto Workshop Productions, and in 1981 appeared in the Toronto Free Theatre production of Bertolt Brecht's In the Jungle of Cities. Her long and distinguished association with the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ont, began in 1982, when she joined Shakespeare 3 Company, as the festival's Young Company was then called, appearing as Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream and as Diana in All's Well That Ends Well. Her breakthrough performance came 2 years later, with an emotionally intense, much lauded Juliet, opposite Colm FEORE's Romeo in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

She has interpreted more than 20 of Shakespeare's heroines at Stratford, including Viola in Twelfth Night, Cordelia in King Lear, Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Elizabeth in Richard III, Margaret in the Henry IVs, a particularly fiery Kate in 2003's "spaghetti western" version of The Taming of the Shrew, Katherine of Aragon in Henry VIII, Olivia in Twelfth Night and Paulina in The Winter's Tale. Elsewhere she has played Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, Hermione in The Winter's Tale and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. McKenna has also excelled in Greek tragedy, as a complex, heartbreaking Medea in Euripides' play of the same name, as Andromache in Euripides' The Trojan Women and in the title role of Jean Racine's Phèdre.

McKenna has an impressive record of achievement in the plays of Tennessee Williams, and has also proved herself an adroit comedienne in productions such as Private Lives, Noises Off and Fallen Angels, all at Stratford.

Solo appearances include The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe which played in theatres across Canada from 1992-94 and Shakespeare's Will (Stratford, 2007). At Toronto's CANADIAN STAGE COMPANY, she gave memorable performances in Margaret Edson's Wit (2001) and in Doubt: A Parable (2009), by John Patrick Shanley. The Year of Magical Thinking, based on the bestselling book by Joan Didion, was first produced in Victoria in 2009 before the production travelled to Toronto's Tarragon Theatre in 2010 and the National Arts Centre in 2011.

Seana McKenna's film appearances include Glory Enough for All, Handel's Last Chance and The Hanging Garden. For television she has appeared in Street Legal, Road to Avonlea, The Eleventh Hour, Wild Hearts in Strange Times and the BBC miniseries Burn Up.

McKenna won a Dora Mavor Moore Award for her performance in the title role of Shaw's Saint Joan (Theatre Plus, 1991) and a second in 1998 for outstanding direction of Fugard's Valley Song. Her third DORA AWARD, in 2007, was for her performance as Lady Torrance in Orpheus Descending. She received a Jessie Award for Wit and a GENIE AWARD for The Hanging Garden. In 2010 she was awarded an honorary master of fine arts degree from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

She served for 6 years on the council of Canadian Equity, the actors' union, and for 3 years on its executive. She has received a TYRONE GUTHRIE AWARD for mentorship.

With impressive technique and a silky, flexible voice, Seana McKenna demonstrates passion, intensity and intelligence in every role. She is considered by many to be Canada's finest dramatic actress of her generation.