Kelsey Grammer gives moving tribute to ensemble member John Mahoney
By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader
Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s world-renowned ensemble was recently joined by more than 675 civic, cultural and business leaders for its 2018 Gala, raising more than $1.3 million for Steppenwolf’s artistic, educational and community programming. The major fundraising event, which had record-breaking attendance, was held at a new location not far from the theatre, 1340 N. Cherry Ave., and was designed and produced by Jeffrey Foster for Frost Chicago. Attendees celebrated 42 seasons of groundbreaking ensemble theatre with an evening of festivity emceed by actor Rainn Wilson, well-known for his role as “Dwight Schrute” on NBC’s award-winning comedy, “The Office” and currently starring in “The Doppelgänger” (an international farce) at Steppenwolf.
Comedian, actor, director and producer Chris Rock, who starred in the world premiere Broadway production of “The Motherf**ker with the Hat” directed by Steppenwolf Artistic Director Anna D. Shapiro, joined as the guest auctioneer, alongside Christie’s Robbie Gordy.
This extraordinary night, curated by Artistic Director Anna D. Shapiro and the Steppenwolf ensemble, began with a unique opportunity to mingle with ensemble members during a festive cocktail reception before moving on to a gourmet seated dinner. The evening’s emcee Rainn Wilson introduced Board of Trustees Chair Eric Lefkofsky and Executive Director David Schmitz who warmly welcomed guests and thanked sponsors. Wilson and Shapiro introduced the ensemble, who gathered onstage for the Ensemble Toast given by ensemble member Audrey Francis.
A moving tribute to ensemble member John Mahoney, who passed away earlier this year, was given by his long-time friend and actor Kelsey Grammer, who played the title character in the NBC series, “Frasier” opposite Mahoney. Anna D. Shapiro continued the tribute sharing memories of John and his deep love for Steppenwolf, followed by a beautiful video montage.
Rainn Wilson then introduced award-winning comedian and the evening’s special guest auctioneer Chris Rock, longside Christie’s Auctioneer Robbie Gordy. The auction featured an island getaway on Mustique; dinner with ensemble member Amy Morton and Tony Award-winning actress and director of Steppenwolf’s upcoming production of “The Roommate,” Phylicia Rashad; a VIP Broadway/New York City experience; a weekend in Los Angeles with Tony Award-winning ensemble member Laurie Metcalf on the set of “Roseanne;” an evening with Chris Rock and more once-in-a-lifetime adventures.
The 2018 Gala was hosted by Steppenwolf’s Board of Trustees and Steppenwolf’s celebrated ensemble of artists. Steppenwolf’s annual Gala benefit raises crucial support for the theater’s adventurous, thought-provoking work and vital arts outreach in Chicago schools and neighborhoods. Steppenwolf Education’s programming includes Steppenwolf for Young Adults (SYA), which produces two full-scale plays geared for teens and provides in-class and afterschool workshops reaching more than 15,000 teachers, teens and their families each year. A video was shared that documented SYA’s community partnerships, specifically with BUILD, Inc., a non-profit that works to prevent at-risk youth from joining gangs as well as working with gang-involved youth to develop alternatives to this destructive lifestyle. Next season SYA will feature “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” the Tony Award-winning play adapted by Simon Stephens based on the book by Mark Haddon, directed by Steppenwolf Artistic Producer Jonathan Berry; and the world premiere of “Radical” by acclaimed playwright Matthew-Lee Erlbach directed by SYA Artistic Director Hallie Gordon and inspired by the book “White American Youth” by Christian Picciolini.
Concluding the Gala evening, guests hit the dance floor to the lively jams of the Chicago band Soul Spectacular followed by DJ Matt ROAN who kept everyone grooving until late in the evening.
In attendance were dozens of Steppenwolf ensemble members, including Kevin Anderson, Alana Arenas, Randy Arney, Ian Barford, Robert Breuler, Cliff Chamberlain, Celeste M. Cooper, Kathryn Erbe, Audrey Francis (Gala Co-Chair), Tim Hopper, Ora Jones, Sandra Marquez, James Vincent Meredith (Gala Co-Chair), Amy Morton, Bruce Norris, Caroline Neff, Jeff Perry (Gala Co-Chair), Yasen Peyankov, Martha Plimpton, Anna D. Shap-iro, Eric Simonson and Jim True-Frost. In addition, well-known artists including Omar Metwally, Arian Moyad, Johnny Galecki and Matthew-Lee Erlbach were also in attendance. Additional notable guests included DCASE Commissioner Mark Kelly and his wife Tricia Needham, Kevin Boehm and Robert Katz of the BOKA Restaurant Group, Leslie Bluhm, Max Cerda and Adam Alonso from Steppenwolf Education community partner BUILD, Inc. and Cydney Cleveland and Meade Palidofsky from Steppenwolf Education community partner Storycatchers, along with the cast of Steppenwolf’s world premiere production of “The Doppelgänger” (an international farce), which is currently playing in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre through June 2.
2018 Gala Co-Chairs included Verett Mims; Elliot Stultz; ensemble member Audrey Francis and Chris Froseth; Cathy and ensemble member James Vincent Meredith; and co-founder Jeff Perry and Linda Lowy, bringing an exciting mix of artist and board collaboration to the event. 2018 Gala sponsors were Allstate, The Bluhm Family Foundation, Exelon, Greenberg Traurig, Grosvenor Capital Management, The Harris Family Foundation – Caryn & King Harris, Liz and Eric Lefkofsky, PwC and Official and Exclusive Airline Partner, United.
Steppenwolf Theatre Company is the nation’s premier ensemble theater. Formed by a collective of actors in 1974, the ensemble represents a remarkable cross-section of actors, directors and playwrights. Thrilling and powerful productions from “Balm in Gilead” to “August: Osage County”—and accolades that include the National Medal of Arts and 12 Tony Awards— have made the theater legendary. Steppenwolf produces hundreds of performances and events annually in its three spaces: the 515-seat Downstairs Theatre, the 299-seat Upstairs Theatre and the 80-seat 1700 Theatre. Artistic programming includes a seven-play season; a two-play Steppenwolf for Young Adults season; Visiting Company engagements; and LookOut, a multi-genre performances series.
Steppenwolf Education initiatives include the nationally-recognized work of Steppenwolf for Young Adults, which engages 15,000 participants annually from Chicago’s diverse communities; the esteemed School at Steppenwolf; and Professional Leadership Programs for arts administration training. While firmly grounded in the Chicago community, nearly 40 original Steppenwolf productions have enjoyed success both nationally and internationally, including Broadway, Off-Broadway, London, Sydney, Galway and Dublin. Anna D. Shapiro is the Artistic Director and David Schmitz is the Executive Director. Eric Lefkofsky is Chair of Steppenwolf’s Board of Trustees. For additional information, visit www.steppenwolf.org.