More than 4,000 theatre supporters tuned in to watch as the Educational Theatre Foundation’s Theatre ALIVE! gala honored award-winning director, producer, and actor Kenny Leon with the second annual Craig Zadan Theatre for Life Award, and Chairman and CEO Robert E. Wankel accepted the annual Standing Ovation Award on behalf of The Shubert Foundation. The January 28 event has raised over $180,000 to support school theatre programs in need — a record for the foundation.
Hosted by Nia Vardalos and John Stamos, the evening focused on four main themes that speak to the value of and need for theatre education: Purpose, Innovation, Giving, and Hope.
Kicking off Purpose, Amber Riley gave a never-before-seen performance of “Home” from The Wiz, originally shared at the Craig Zadan Tribute in 2018. Chasten Buttigieg was given the honor of introducing the 2020 Hall of Fame teachers, saying, “As a student, the arts changed my life. And as a teacher, I have seen it change the lives of my students. So, thank you all for supporting the Educational Theatre Foundation and all they do to bring the theatre arts to kids across this country who otherwise wouldn’t have access to it.”
Tina Fey introduced the Innovation theme which highlighted theatre educators and students who are keeping theatre alive by performing online, outside, or safely inside with masks. As one student said, “While it proved challenging at times, we learned that no matter the circumstances, nothing could stop us from doing what we loved.” The sensational Audra McDonald performed “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music, inspiring us to keep theatre going during the pandemic.
During the Giving section, the Standing Ovation Award was presented to The Shubert Organization. As Robert Wankel reminded the audience while accepting the award, “Arts education has been removed from schools across the country because of the lack of funds. We need to collectively, at all levels, work to bring arts back to the school. It is truly life-changing.” Actor, singer, comedian, game show host, television personality, and Thespian from Troupe 4276, Wayne Brady gave a heartfelt testimony about what theatre meant to him, saying, “What do I know about giving? I know that theatre gave me a life…it truly and honestly changed me for the good, forever.”
Nia Vardalos and John Stamos added humor throughout the evening, such as spontaneously calling Stamos’ junior high school drama teacher, Mike McGinnis via Zoom. John thanked him for being such a great teacher and inspiring his love of theatre.
In the final section of Hope, The Craig Zadan Theatre for Life Award was presented to Kenny Leon by friends LaTanya Richardson Jackson and Samuel L. Jackson. In accepting the award, Leon said, “I am looking for a day when every child in America can have a little piece of theatre in their daily educational lives.” Closing the evening was showstopper Jennifer Hudson singing “I Know Where I’ve Been” from Hairspray.
Highlights from Theatre ALIVE! are available to watch on our YouTube channel.