Sharon Washington ’81

On acting and stagecraft

Career: More than 60 roles on stage and in television and films since 1983; recent films include the Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic On the Basis of Sex (2018) and this year’s The Kitchen and The Joker 

Notable: Last year starred in her one-woman autobiographical play, Feeding the Dragon, based on her childhood living in an apartment over a branch of the New York Public Library, where her father was custodian; appears in recurring role on CBS series The Code; serves on the Hopkins Center board of overseers

Education: A.B, government and African American studies; M.F.A., Yale School of Drama, 1988 

Personal: Lives with her husband, filmmaker Charles Schultz, in Millbrook, New York

“I thought I would join the foreign service and work in a French-speaking African country. I never thought theater could be a career. You don’t watch your parents struggle to put you through college and then tell them you plan to be an actor.”

“What I got from Dartmouth was the ability to be comfortable in any environment. There were other students of color who felt dropped into a totally different culture. We supported each other and became a very tight-knit community. I was better prepared than some because I attended [the New York City prep school] Dalton.”

“When I started Dalton in third grade, I didn’t know how different the other kids were from me. Much later I realized not everybody’s birthday party is at the Paramount Studios screening room. Not everyone can close down FAO Schwarz for an evening.”

“The summer before senior year I decided to see which alums were in the theater. It was all about finding a job with a steady paycheck. I talked to Barry Grove ’73, managing director of Manhattan Theatre Club, who gave me a job in the box office. Later I was his assistant for two years. It was incredibly useful to see what goes on behind the scenes.”

“Writing my play was terrifying. I discovered I’m more comfortable being in scary places as an actor with someone else’s words.”

“My play began as a book that people suggested I should write because growing up in a library was like a fairy tale. I was my family’s storyteller. When I got to writing about painful parts of my family story, I turned it into a theater piece with more dialogue. Then I started wondering if anyone would want to sit in the theater for 90 minutes and hear me talk.”

“On stage, anything can happen. An audience member can come in late and distract you—or be on a phone, which makes you think, ‘You know I can see that, right?’ ”

“With film and television, acting is all behind the eyes. You have to trust that you’re being the character. The best directors will help you do that. Stage requires being larger than life, showing people who the character is, because most people in the theater can’t see your eyes.”

“There are a lot more television roles now for women of a certain age. I remember in 2007 when Glenn Close starred in Damages. I thought it was so amazing to see a big star cross over. Now you see lots of great actresses doing it. As a woman of a certain age myself, it’s exciting to see the possibilities.”

Illustration by John Cuneo

Portfolio

Alumni Books
New titles from Dartmouth writers (May/June 2019)
Kitchen Table Diplomat
Entrée entrepreneur Steph Lawrence ’06 makes the world smaller, one meal at a time.
The Reluctant Luddite

Pulitzer-nominated author Nicholas Carr ’81 is a Net user of the first order. But is his brain paying for it?

Sharon Washington ’81
On acting and stagecraft

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