Sandra Oh’s voice can be heard from the next room, where the actress is having her makeup retouched and doing a final round of interviews before accepting the Gascon-Thomas award. The National Theatre School of Canada presents this award each year to French and English theatre professionals that have made their mark on Canadian theatre and served as role models for its students.
“I need to eat something!” Oh calls out, unexpectedly rushing into the room, grabbing an unclaimed fruit cup from the food table and rushing back out. Though her slight frame does not take up much space, her presence is immeasurable, as almost anyone is starstruck in her presence. Best known for her portrayal of Dr. Christina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy, the native of Nepean, Ontario and 1993 NTS graduate, has definitely made it big.
Jury members, who selected Oh and Quebecois theatre director Paul Buissonneau as this year’s award winners, discussed their choices.
“She was the obvious choice,” says jury member Alan Bleviss, NTS Alumni President. “We were looking for someone who would inspire the students.” Although recipients do not have to be an NTS graduates, Bleviss explained that with the school’s 50th anniversary coming up the jury felt it was appropriate to give the award to a former student.
As the honorees took their places on stage, Oh’s parents sat proudly in the theatre’s balcony, her mother snapping photos, as the audience of NTS students intakes an audible breath.
NTS student representative, Ron Klappholz, introduced Oh, describing his meeting her and thinking, “OMFG! It’s Dr. Christina Yang!” Receiving the award on the Ludger-Duvernay stage is important to Oh, he said, as she never got her chance to perform at the storied theatre, as it was undergoing renovations during her graduating performance. Klappholz then called Oh to the podium for “unfinished business.”
“I was once you and one day you will be me,” she said to the crowd of students.
In her acceptance speech, Oh credited her teachers who showed her techniques and lessons that she uses to this day.
“If you are a teacher, thank you. I am proof that what you do matters,” she said.
She thanked the school for teaching her how to navigate success and showing her that there is always a place you can come back to.
“Hopefully, you’ll still have a few classmates you still like talking to who will know your core, who will have witnessed your failure, your strength and who will hopefully always know the truth,” she said.
Oh smiled, recalling her NTS audition, calling it “a nice warm-up for my real audition at Concordia.” As it turns out, she did not make it past the first round of Concordia auditions and was rejected.
Despite already winning at Golden Globe and three Screen Actors Guild awards, Oh said the Gascon-Thomas award was significant for her.
“It’s made me reflect on many things,” she said. “It’s been 16 years since I’ve been back here and although my life has changed its still the same in a lot of ways and it makes me reflect on all the great things this school gave me.”