The Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) and 350 guests raised $1.2 million for the organization’s Chicago Shakespeare in Urban Communities initiatives at GALA 2015. These initiatives include CST’s award-winning engagement programs including Team Shakespeare education initiatives and Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks.
The evening began with a reception where guests could mingle throughout the lobbies and performance spaces, which were adorned with quotes from Shakespeare’s plays projected onto walls and windows and real-live actors portraying characters from his works. Following the reception was a three-course dinner sponsored by Food For Thought and Van Duzer Vineyards.
The main event of the evening went to the presentation of the Spirit of Shakespeare Awards to this year’s Civic Honoree, Illinois Tool Works (ITW) and ITW vice chairman David Parry and his wife Ros Parry, and Artistic Honorees, Simon Callow and Phylicia Rashād. These awards are given annually to honor those that keep the spirit of Shakespeare alive through community engagement and artistic leadership.
CST’s executive director Criss Henderson presented the Civic Honoree Award to the Parry’s. David Parry spoke on behalf of ITW and began humorously talking about his brief acting career performing Shakespeare as a young boy in school. He then went on to say that ITW encourages and supports their leaders and employees to be involved in their communities. One way they do this is by matching employees with their charitable giving by matching donations. He stated that they even donate another $10 per hour of volunteer work.
“The focus of the ITW foundation is on education –especially on S.T.E.M.—but we support the arts and culture with vigor, and we are very happy to be involved with the CST.”
Artistic Honoree Simon Callow accepted his award, presented to him by longtime friend and CST artistic director Barbara Gaines. Callow is a longtime actor who has spent much of his career in the theater, including two productions with CST. He spoke about his love and appreciation of Shakespeare as a writer and humanist, and also the honor that he felt to receive an award such as this.
“The awards that always mean the most are from those who we love and respect. Colleagues, friends, and members of the audience that have perhaps been moved or excited or changed by what we’ve done. This award supremely falls into that category.”
He also said to get an award which contains the name William Shakespeare “is the ultimate honor, joy, and delight.”
Second Artistic Honoree Phylicia Rashād was presented with her award by CST creative producer Rick Boynton who gave the most genuine and heartfelt introduction that all the audience could relate to. She was recognized for her extensive career as an actor and director, including her ground-breaking portrayal of attorney Claire Huxtable on The Cosby Show as well as her work in the Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun for which she earned a Tony Award. She spoke to her humble beginnings as an actor during an era where there was still racial exclusion that kept her from performing certain roles. Very passionately, she also expressed the importance of arts education and the power it can bring to encourage youth who might feel discouraged.
Rashād said, “Reaching for young people, especially in this time where there is so much to tell them who they are not and can never be. Especially in this time where there is so little that encourages them to consider their full potential as human beings…you don’t know what it means to the young people who will be reached through this program. But I can tell you as one who was reached as a young person that it means everything.”
Evidence of the impact of arts education was CPS Shakespeare! student participants, as they performed excerpts from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. CPS Prosser Career Academy junior Jennifer Guadalupe Gonzalez – who earlier this year traveled to the White House to accept the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from First Lady Michelle Obama on behalf of Chicago Shakespeare Theater – spoke to her experience in the program and how life-changing it has been for her to understand herself better. Not only has it been an eye opener for herself, but also how she relates to others.
“In ensemble we are all such different people, but yet there is no worry about other people judging you,” said Gonzalez. “We come from different parts of the city and we’re all from different cultures. This program has made me notice everyone out in the world. We are all human beings with feelings.”
CPS Shakespeare has also inspired her to consider a career as a drama teacher so that she can “show kids that there is so much more to life.”
” I want to push them to see that there is a better side of the world.”
For more information visit www.chicagoshakes.org.