BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Chris Rock, Kelsey Grammer, and Rainn Wilson highlighted a celebrity-filled Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s gala attended by more than 675 civic, cultural, and business leaders May 11. By the end of the star-struck night, over $1.3 million was raised for Steppenwolf’s artistic, educational, and community programming. The major fundraising event for the world-renowned ensemble had record-breaking attendance and a new location not far from the theatre, 1340 North Cherry Avenue.
Rainn Wilson, well-known for his role on NBC’s award-winning comedy, The Office, and currently starring in The Doppelgänger (an international farce) at Steppenwolf, served as master of ceremonies. 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. The gala was designed and produced by Jeffrey Foster for Frost Chicago.
This extraordinary night, curated by 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. 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 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 longtime friend and actor Kelsey Grammer, who played the title character in the NBC series Frasier opposite Mahoney. Shapiro continued the tribute sharing memories of John and his deep love for Steppenwolf, followed by a beautiful video montage.
No organization offers unique auction experiences better than Steppenwolf, which draws on the enthusiasm of actors for the company. This year’s auction featured a dinner with ensemble member Amy Morton and Tony Award-winning actress and director of Steppenwolf’s upcoming production of The Roommate, Phylicia Rashad; 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. Gala Co-Chairs included Verett Mims; Elliot Stultz; ensemble member Audrey Francis and Chris Froseth; Cathy and James Vincent Meredith, ensemble member; and Linda Lowy and co-founder Jeff Perry, bringing an exciting mix of artist and board collaboration to the event.
Additional Steppenwolf ensemble members in attendance included Kevin Anderson, Alana Arenas, Randy Arney, Ian Barford, Robert Breuler, Cliff Chamberlain, Celeste M. Cooper, Kathryn Erbe, Tim Hopper, Ora Jones, Sandra Marquez, Bruce Norris, Caroline Neff, Yasen Peyankov, Martha Plimpton, Eric Simonson, and Jim True-Frost.
Other notable guests were Omar Metwally; Arian Moyad; Bing Bang Theory’s Johnny Galecki; Matthew-Lee Erlbach; 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.
Concluding the Gala evening, Soul Spectacular, followed by DJ Matt ROAN, kept everyone dancing well into the night.
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.
The annual gala for Steppenwolf, the nation’s premier ensemble theater, formed by a collective of actors in 1976, raises crucial support for its adventurous and thought-provoking work and vital arts outreach in Chicago schools and neighborhoods. Steppenwolf Education’s programming includes Steppenwolf for Young Adults, 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; the esteemed School at Steppenwolf; and Professional Leadership Programs for arts administration training.
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 and working with gang-involved youth to develop alternatives to this destructive lifestyle.
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. While firmly grounded in the Chicago community, nearly 40 original Steppenwolf productions have enjoyed success both nationally, on Broadway and Off-Broadway, and internationally, in London, Sydney, Galway, and Dublin.
For current and upcoming performance information, and to learn more about the theater, visit steppenwolf.org.