A CANBERRA neuropsychologist with a passion for acting was presented with the Helen Tsongas Award for excellence in acting by Arts Minister Tara Cheyne at the ACT Arts Awards tonight (December 1).
Lainie Hart was singled out by the Canberra Critics Circle for a remarkable body of work over the past year in live and screen performances for Lakespeare & Co, The Q and Canberra REP. The critics praised her “transfixing performances that were at times fiercely dramatic and menacing and at others pure, zany comedy”.
A dedicated actor who has played everyone from Morticia in “The Addams Family Musical” to Olivia in “Twelfth Night”, Hart works by day as a neuropsychologist with the ACT Department of Health and the ANU.
Faced at age 19 with a choice between treading the boards and studying psychology, she opted for “the safe way” and now has five degrees, including a PhD from Macquarie University.
But theatre always beckoned, and after playing more than 20 principal roles for theatre companies around the ACT, in 2017 she accepted an offer to do a full-time acting course at 16th Street Actor’s Studio in Melbourne, directed by former Canberran Iain Sinclair.
“When something feels really right you make it happen and I had the best time,” she says.
After graduating, Hart returned to Canberra, where she has produced a series of extraordinary, intense performances which one member of the Critics Circle described as “mesmerising”.
The Helen Tsongas Award for excellence in acting was established by the Tsongas family in the name of the late Helen Tsongas, who died in a motorcycle accident with her husband, Peter Brajkovic, nine years ago.
Tsongas was a striking dramatic actor, memorable for tragic roles in “Medea” and “The House of Bernarda Alba”, but equally admired for her comic roles in “Noises Off” and “The Female Odd Couple”.
She worked at Arts ACT for many years (former Chief Minister Jon Stanhope was Arts Minister at the time), and moved to the then Commonwealth Office for the Arts when Simon Crean was Arts Minister.
She would have been 42 in November this year.
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.