NEW YORK CITY: Members of the New York theatre community gathered at the Edison Ballroom on Monday night, Feb. 4, for Theatre Communications Group’s 2019 Gala. This year’s gala honored three individuals for their extraordinary contributions to the field: arts philanthropist Martha Rivers Ingram, press agent Rick Miramontez, and playwright Tony Kushner. The 2019 Gala also celebrated TCG programming which aims to create a more equitable and diverse theatre landscape and advances leaders of color in the field.
Following opening remarks from Teresa Eyring, executive director and CEO of TCG, and Adrian Budhu, TCG’s deputy director and COO, the night’s first performance featured Eva Noblezada and Patrick Page of the Broadway-bound Hadestown, who joined the onstage band to perform “Hey, Little Songbird,” a haunting tune from the show that showcased not only Noblezada and Page’s vocal abilities but also the songwriting talent of Anaïs Mitchell, who wrote the music, lyrics, and book for Hadestown. When asked to share special memories of her work in nonprofit theatre, Mitchell cited the productions of Hadestown at New York Theatre Workshop and London’s National Theatre, noting that nonprofit theatres provide “environments that create art of integrity.” Mitchell also spoke to the strong communities founded in nonprofit theatre: “It feels like a family that is supporting and challenging you,” she said.
Long Wharf artistic director Jacob Padrón took the stage next to highlight TCG’s programming for leaders of color. “Tonight is a wonderful celebration of where we’ve been, and more importantly where we’re going,” said Padrón, who was a part of the TCG Rising Leaders of Color program in 2011 and TCG’s SPARK Leadership Program in 2014. Padrón went on to acknowledge that there is still much work to do in the field to improve opportunities and support for artistic leaders of color. “Progress has been slow,” he said. “The journey has been painful and it’s far from over. But as I stand here tonight, dear friends, I am filled with hope.”
The night continued with an auction hosted by Charles Antin. After auctioning off two pairs of tickets to Rick Miramontez’s extravagant Tony Awards after-party (which last year featured Andrew Lloyd Webber as the deejay), Antin led a campaign for donations to TCG for its work building, as its motto goes, a better world for theatre, and a better world because of theatre.
The first honoree of the night was Martha Rivers Ingram, cofounder of Nashville Repertory Theatre and chairman emerita of Ingram Industries. While Ingram could not be present herself, René Copeland, Nashville Rep’s artistic director, spoke on her behalf. Copeland lauded Ingram’s dedication to theatre. “The way she supports Nashville Rep is so much more than just check-writing,” said Copeland. “She actually believes in theatre. She actually wants us to succeed not just in the realm of fiscal sustainability…but as artists as well, because her commitment stems from a genuine love of what good theatre can do, and that‘s a real gift.”
Copeland’s speech was followed by a performance from Ali Stroker, star of the recent revival of Oklahoma! at St. Ann’s Warehouse that is, like Hadestown, headed for Broadway this spring. Stroker provided a powerful and charming rendition of “I Cain’t Say No,” garnering an enthusiastic “hoo-wee!” from someone in the audience during the song, and sending the entire crowd into thunderous applause once the performance ended.
Thomas Schumacher of Disney Theatrical Productions introduced the Gala’s next honoree, Rick Miramontez, president of the powerful theatrical p.r. firm DKC/O&M. Miramontez, who began his career alongside Schumacher at the nonprofit Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, stressed the importance of community in his speech, saying, “It’s because of so many of the people in this very room that I have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, such a wonderfully fulfilling career.” He also addressed his hopes for the future of both theatre and news media. “I remain smitten enough to believe that it’s the artists and the journalists who can—and must—pull us out of the mess we, as a nation, have found ourselves in. Great theatre has the power to change lives. I know because it has changed mine.”
The final performance of the night was given by Beth Malone, accompanied on piano by Nico Muhly, delivering a heartwarming take on “Moon River.” Malone, who starred in Fun Home and appeared in the 2018 revival of Angels in America, blew a kiss to honoree Tony Kushner near the end of the song. Kushner, sitting at a table near the stage, blew a kiss back to Malone.
Jeanine Tesori, a composer collaborator of Kushner’s, next took to the stage to introduce the final honoree. “He’s not just a serious artist,” Tesori said of Kushner. “He showed me I’m one too.”
And with that Kushner himself took the stage, giving a breathless speech in tribute to the organization that once employed him and has since published his plays, both in the magazine and through TCG Books. He hailed his erstwhile TCG colleagues as “really, smart, knowledgeable, curious, sophisticated, engaged, engaging people,” and singled out for special praise “the patron saint of play publication, the incomparable and indispensable Terry Nemeth,” who serves as publisher not only for TCG Books but for American Theatre magazine as well. The 62-year-old Kushner, whom director Tony Taccone once compared to a “funny rabbi,” closed with a joke about the less exalted event that will close his week: a colonoscopy. Whether in the struggle to make theatre or the fight for justice, or in other more mundane matters, Kushner quipped, “It will all come out in the end.”