Theater veteran Jeanne Hebbron Cairns honored as the embodiment of 'an entire era'

Sep 17, 2019

Jeanne Hebborn Cairns has amassed over 40 years of experience as an actor, director and producer in Buffalo’s theater community. She was honored for her career Friday night with a star in the Theatre District’s Plaza of Stars.

Jeanne Hebborn Cairns and her new star in Buffalo's Theatre District
Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO

A crowded room of longtime members of Buffalo's theater community applauded a proclamation read by Buffalo Deputy Mayor Ellen Grant.

“I do hereby proclaim September 16, 2019, Jeanne Hebborn Cairns day in the City of Buffalo and extend our best wishes for continued success in the future,” Grant said.

Cairns moved to Buffalo in 1962 and shortly thereafter started working with Studio Arena Theatre. Since then, she has appeared in productions for Irish Classical Theatre Company, Artpark, and several others. She also appeared in films, including ‘Hide in Plain Sight,’ which starred James Caan, and ‘Barney’s Waiting for Santa,’ in which she played Mrs. Claus.

“It is purported that Jeanne appeared in more studio productions Arena Theatre productions than any other actress. In 2002, she was honored along with fellow Studio Arena alum, Stephen McKinley Henderson, with an ARTIE Award for her exceptional Career Achievement,” Grant said.

Theatre Talk co-host Anthony Chase gave a speech highlighting Cairns' stage career. He said one of her strengths was bringing total reality to the most deranged comedy, like her iconic role as Sister Clarissa in Tom Dudzick’s Over the Tavern.

“Every actor who has to play that subsequent to Jeanne has enormous shows to fill because she took what could have been just nun shtick and made a woman of substance and reality and still landed those jokes. The piece of breakfast cereal falls off the crucifix and the kid says, ‘Don’t eat it!’ and Jeanne says, ‘It wasn’t my first impulse,’” Chase said to laughter.

Chase continued to recite lines still ringing in his head from years ago, including one from “I Hate Hamlet” as Lillian the Teutonic agent.

“Do you mind if I smoke?” Chase said imitating Cairns as Lillian.

“Well you really shouldn’t. It’s so bad for you,” he bantered back to himself.

“You’re right I must give that up.”

“Smoking?”

“No, asking,” Chase said to more laughter.

Memories filled the room remembering Cairns’ storied career. But above all else, Chase finished his speech by saying Cairns was a wonderful human being.

“Everyone here could tell stories of working with Jeanne or seeing Jeanne. But over that amount of time and for that number of roles, there’s a point at which you’re a great actress, but then at a certain point you embody an entire era of theater in the city. And that makes you a legend and a grand dame,” Chase said to a roaring applause.

Jeanne Hebborn Cairns and a fan
Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO

The ceremony kicked off the 38th Annual Curtain Up celebration, which will be held this Friday as the official opening of Buffalo’s theater season.