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Nichelle Lewis performs "Home" from "The Wiz" at TCG's 2024 Gala. (Photo by Catalin Media)

TCG’s 2024 Gala: Telling ‘Our Stories’ of Lives in the Theatre

This year’s event recognized several vital industry changemakers and raised approximately $200,000 in support of TCG’s mission to lead for a just and thriving theatre ecology.

“TCG’s mission cannot be brought to fruition when expression is censored and artists are silenced.” Outgoing executive director/CEO Teresa Eyring shared these words of wisdom Monday night, as Theatre Communications Group, the nonprofit theatre support organization and the publisher of American Theatre, held its annual gala at the Edison Ballroom. The theme for the evening was “Love Stories,” as the presenters and honorees reflected on their experiences falling in love with theatre and fostering their glowing admiration for one another.

In a similarly powerful display of care for the trans community, board vice chair Merrique Jenson, joined by board member Qween Jean and transgender activist and TV personality Monica Beverly Hillz, announced the creation of TCG’s Trans Women of Color Fund, an initiative that the two board members will co-chair to provide $50,000 in funds to trans women of color in the arts.

“A lot of the time while I was at NYU in grad school I was homeless,” Jean shared. “It took a lot of love from my community, my sisters, who took me in. I literally couch surfed from night to night, but I graduated, and I have been very honored in order to create, to tell stories Off-Broadway, on Broadway. Last fall, I was very honored to be on the cover of our return for American Theatre magazine. So I’m really deeply thankful that TCG is committed to planting the seed for innovation, but most importantly that other community members’ dreams can begin to flourish.”

The 2024 gala honorees included set designer David Rockwell, the architect behind such iconic original sets as Hairspray, Legally Blonde, Kinky Boots, and more; producer Brian Anthony Moreland, who recently producedThe Piano Lesson, Funny Girl, and American Buffalo, as well as the upcoming revival of The Wiz on Broadway; director Schele Williams, who is simultaneously directing The Wiz and co-directing The Notebook; and the Shubert Foundation, the nation’s largest funder of unrestricted aid for nonprofit theatre and dance companies. The event also celebrated Eyring for her 17 years of service leading the organization. The gala program was directed by Trey Ellett, music directed by Bálint Varga, stage managed by Molly Foy, and line produced by Greg Kamp. This year’s gala co-chairs were Rick Miramontez and Lauren Reid.

Jackie Arnold, Tracee Beazer, and Judine Somerville performing as The Dynamites at TCG’s 2024 Gala. (Photo By Lia Chang)

The star-studded evening included four performances. The opening number featured Jackie Arnold, Tracee Beazer, and Judine Somerville clad in shimmering red as The Dynamites, who sang “Welcome to the Gala,” a riff on Hairspray’s “Welcome to the 60’s,” in Rockwell’s honor. Actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein spoke about his many fulfilling collaborations with Rockwell over the years, before presenting his award, joking, “The only thing David isn’t good at is Christmas gifts,” which he followed with a humorous anecdote about a holiday gift he received from Rockwell a few years back.

On a more serious note, Rockwell said, “I’ve come to understand that one doesn’t love theatre as much as fall in love with it over and over again.”

Performer, entrepreneur, and Real Housewives of Atlanta alum Kandi Burruss and husband Todd Tucker presented Moreland’s award and spoke about their experience co-producing The Piano Lesson with him last season. Aisha Jackson, who most recently played Snow White in the Britney Spears musical Once Upon a One More Time, performed “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough,” from Hallelujah, Baby!

Aisha Jackson performs at the TCG 2024 Gala. (Photo by Catalin Media)

On receiving the award, Moreland remarked, “I believe that for 90 minutes, or sometimes three hours, playwrights can offer us a glimmer of what life can be and what life should be. Playwrights such as August Wilson, or Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, or Lynn Nottage—these are playwrights who have not only contributed to the American theatre canon, they have consistently offered us a roadmap to change. I am grateful to TCG for ensuring these voices stay alive.”

Karena Fiorenza and LaTeshia Ellerson. (Photo by Catalin Media)

Fostering new talent is a key part of TCG’s programs, something that the organization’s interim leaders CEO Karena Fiorenza and chief growth officer (CGO) LaTeshia Ellerson noted in their remarks. The two recalled meeting a decade ago when they participated in TCG’s 2014 SPARK Leadership Program. They both were part of a cohort that included professionals Victor Maog, Snehal Desai, Nelson T. Eusebio III, Godfrey L. Simmons, Deena Selenow, Jacob Padrón, Kelvin Dinkins Jr., and Lisa Portes.

Following their remarks and a performance from the new musical Water for Elephants, director and producer Kenny Leon spoke about the Shubert Foundation’s lasting impact on the industry, saying that, “The table is big enough for everybody.” Shubert Foundation president Diana Phillips accepted the award.

“We must all remember the responsibility that comes with being stewards of the arts,” Phillips said. “We must continue to ensure access, so that every voice has the opportunity to be heard and every story has the chance to be told.”

Broadway triple threat LaChanze presented the fourth award of the evening to Schele Williams, reminding the audience that Williams is making history, not only for her double Broadway directorial debut but also as the first Black woman to direct a musical on Broadway in more than 50 years, since Vinnette Carroll directed Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope. Williams spoke about her desire to create an emotional memory for her audiences that would leave a lasting impression.

“That moment that we fell in love with theatre lives inside us,” said Williams. “We tap into that emotional memory every time we endeavor to make a transformational piece of art. It is a gift from artists that broke us open and changed our lives.”

Honoree Schele Williams. (Photo by Catalin Media)

The Wiz leading lady Nichelle Lewis gave the final performance of the night, singing “Home.”

André De Shields. (Photo by Catalin Media)

For the final award of the evening, Emmy-, Grammy-, and Tony-winning performer André De Shields held court from an unconsecrated pulpit before recognizing Teresa Eyring. He recalled his experience originating the role of the Wiz on Broadway and in his hometown of Baltimore, marveling that the current revival launched its North American tour at the same city’s Hippodrome Theatre.

“When I grew up in Baltimore in the ’50s and ’60s,” De Shields said, “I could not go to the Hippodrome Theatre because of the melanin in my skin.” He praised Nichelle Lewis’s performance, adding, “I’m the original Wiz, and tonight you brought me home.”

De Shields, who earned his first Tony at age 73 (for Hadestown) and told the audience he’s working on his second, also expressed gratitude toward TCG and Eyring while discussing her legacy. He recalled how a Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowship allowed him to obtain his master’s degree. 

De Shields’s parting words of wisdom perfectly captured the gala’s theme, “Theatre as a way of life is finite. Theatre as a way to life is infinite.”

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