Theater Forward’s Annual Gala: Celebrating Artistic Excellence and Social Change


Learn more about the upcoming event, which will feature performances from Kristin Chenoweth, Norm Lewis, Phylicia Rashad, and more.

Theater Forward, a nonprofit arts organization supporting regional theaters, will hold its annual gala on April 4. As previously announced, the event will honor Tony and Obie Award-winning director Kenny Leon and Prudential Financial.

The evening will begin with cocktails, followed by dinner, followed by awards presentations and performances by special guests including Kristin Chenoweth, Norm Lewis, Phylicia Rashad and more.

Theater Forward supports 19 regional theaters and their efforts to improve theater accessibility and community enrichment with the goal of creating positive social change. Read the interview below with Theater Forward Executive Director Gretchen Shugart to learn more about the event and the important work of Theater Forward.

What role does regional theater play in the theatrical ecosystem of the United States?

Theaters are an important part of America’s cultural fabric. They inspire and stimulate local commerce, improve the quality of life in cities and employ both businessmen and artists. Theaters provide a forum for freedom of expression and are places where people can gather to listen to and learn from each other’s stories. In addition to work performed on stage, many regional theaters engage in social outreach to provide services that uplift individuals within their communities.

Theater Forward member theaters are widely known for their artistic excellence and exemplary leadership. Many of the shows we see on Broadway were developed in regional theaters across America. Collectively, over the past 45 years, Theater Forward member theaters have sent hundreds of shows to Broadway, representing dozens of Tony Awards and hundreds of nominations.

How does Theater Forward support its 19 regional theatres?

For over 40 years, Theater Forward has provided an effective channel for donors large and small to impact theaters and their communities across the country. Theater Forward raises, distributes, facilitates and effectively manages grants for its member theaters striving to achieve artistic excellence and initiatives that promote accessibility, lifelong learning and positive social change , with a particular focus on equity, diversity and inclusion. An example of this is Theater Forward’s Bank of America ACTivate Awards, a grantmaking program that supports theaters’ efforts to become more equitable.

How does Kenny Leon embody the values ​​of Theater Forward?

Kenny Leon has worked his whole life to bring important stories to the public and to expand the audience for those stories. Whether on a regional or Broadway stage, on television or on the big screen, his work is for everyone. Accessibility, inclusion, anti-racism, these are values ​​that we support.

How does Prudential serve regional theater in the United States?

Prudential has publicly recognized the important role that our cultural institutions, and theater in particular, play in society. Corporate support for the arts is not easy. Prudential’s support for Curtain Up! and regional theaters raise awareness and remind us that the arts are vital to society.

What can attendees expect from the gala festivities and performances?

Many of our most beloved theater artists – Kristin Chenoweth, Norm Lewis, DeWitt Fleming Jr., Brittney Johnson and Phylicia Rashad, to name a few – join us to sing, dance and pay tribute to Kenny Leon, Prudential Financial and Theater Forward member theatres. After a two-year hiatus from the theater, we are delighted to reunite near Times Square in the magnificent Edison Ballroom for cocktails, a three-course dinner, and a joyous celebration.

How can individuals support regional theatre?

Individuals can support regional theaters by purchasing tickets and making donations. Those wishing to support theater nationally can donate to Theater Forward and/or attend our April 4 gala, benefiting our member theaters.

To buy tickets or donate, go to


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