ONE of the highlights of the ACT Arts Awards held earlier this week (November 19) at the CMAG was the inauguration of a new award for acting.
The Helen Tsongas award for excellence in acting was presented by ACT Arts Minister Gordon Ramsay to Christopher Samuel Carroll, an Irish-born actor who burst onto the Canberra scene a couple of years ago and has now made the city and the local arts scene his home.
His many performances in 2018-19 have included “Icarus”, created with The Street Theatre, the two roles in Mark O’Rowe’s “Howie the Rookie” at Smith’s Alternative, Mr Samsa in “Metamorphosis” for The Street Theatre, and a striking Malvolio in Lakespeare’s outdoor “Twelfth Night”.
Carroll also performed a solo durational performance art piece, “Ever Tried. Ever Failed” for Art, Not Apart, where he repeatedly fell in slow-motion down the grand staircase in the Nishi Building in New Acton.
The late Helen Tsongas, who would have been 41 this November, died in a motorcycle accident with her husband Peter Brajkovic eight years ago and this new award for excellence in acting is an initiative of the Tsongas family to keep the memory of their daughter and sister alive.
Those who knew Tsongas said she was known and respected as an energetic and passionate advocate for the arts in Canberra.
She worked at Arts ACT for many years (Former Chief Minister Jon Stanhope was, at the time, the Arts Minister) and then moved to the then Commonwealth Office for the Arts when Simon Crean was Minister for the Arts.
Over the years she performed in many different productions, including “An Absurd Double Bill”, “An Ideal Husband”, “Noises Off”, “Wuthering Heights”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Steel Magnolias”, “Cosi”, The Female Odd Couple” and “The House of Bernarda Alba”.
She had been cast in Moliere’s comedy “The Imaginary Invalid”, which opened in May, 2011, shortly after her death.
In my “CityNews” review of the play I wrote, “director Jordan Best has stepped on to the stage as Argan’s hypocritical second wife Béline, replacing at short notice Helen Brajkovic, whose untimely death has shocked the Canberra theatre community and who will be remembered as one of this city’s finest serious performers.”
Long-time friend and her director for many shows, Liz Bradley, said she had first encountered Tsongas when she was a student at the University Canberra. Tsongas quickly got involved in The Players company on campus, with Bradley directing her in “Memory Of Water” and later many more shows.
“She was dedicated, inventive, loyal and straight down the line,” Bradley said. “She loved acting, she was incredibly reliable and she would’ve gone on acting as long as she could have.”
Jordan Best described the late Tsongas as “gutsy on stage, strong and intelligent as an actor, like she was as a person.
“She was also very important supportive of her fellow actors when I was directing her she was always ready to try things… Rehearsals with Helen were full of laughter,” she said.
MC at the arts awards, Peter Robinson said: “I’ve known Helen Tsongas since she was in kindergarten with my eldest daughter, Soli Middleby… Her comic skills were dazzling in Liz Bradley’s production at University of Canberra of Neil Simon’s ‘The Female Odd Couple’… Helen had an unusual attribute—she could speak faster than anyone I know, yet with impeccable articulation.”
The Helen Tsongas award takes the form of a cheque to the value of $1000 and a certificate going to the best Canberra actor of the year, with no restrictions on age or gender, as judged by the theatre panel of the Canberra Critics Circle and will continue over the coming years.
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