|Andre De Shields
Inspiring others was the theme at the League of Professional Theatre Women 2019 Leadership Luncheon celebrating the inaugural Rachel Crothers Leadership Award to Donna Walker-Kuhne, an expert in audience development who has raised more than $23 million to promote the arts to multicultural communities.
The ceremony, held on June 24 at Sardi's, featured entertainment by Marvin Lowe, who sang "Siyahamba," and Tony Award winner LaChanze (The Color Purple), who performed "Feeling Good"-- and was hosted by Tony Award winner Andre De Shields (Hadestown).
Yvette Heyliger, chair of the LPTW Rachel Crothers Leadership Award and co-vice president of programming, introduced De Shields, who she said inspired her since she just turned 60 and he recently won his first Tony at age 73. DeShields urged the audience to "stay on your chosen path until you win." A charismatic master of ceremonies, he noted a day after the first Democratic primary debate that Crothers was the one who coined the phrase, "A woman's place is in the home and in the Senate."
Walker-Kuhne is the founder of Walker International Communications Group, a boutique marketing, press and audience development consulting agency that specializes in multicultural marketing, group sales, multicultural press, and promotional events. She is also a senior advisor of community engagement at New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
A veteran of over 22 Broadway productions, she has provided multicultural marketing and group sales for the shows Once on This Island, The Lion King, Aladdin, Smokey Joe's Cafe, among others, and for nonprofit clients such as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, The Billie Holiday Theater and The August Wilson African American Cultural Center. She is an adjunct professor at New York University and Bank Street College, and the co-founder of Bite the Big Apple, an annual multicultural audience development tour that brings Australian arts professionals to New York, and the co-founder of Impact Broadway, an initiative that encourages African American and Latino students to participate in theatre.
She was introduced to the crowd by playwright/filmmaker Rehana Lew Mirza (Hatef**ck). Walker-Kuhne said she came from a long line of warriors and educators and that she never gives up on her vision because that's in her heritage. She emphasized the crucial role teachers provide in people's development and cited a list of her own mentors who inspired her, including Arthur Mitchell, dancer/choreographer/founder of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, who exposed her to classical ballet.
She encouraged the audience to acknowledge and embrace diverse experiences and opinions and said, "Your job is to change the world and once completed, do it again."
The Rachel Crothers Leadership Award is given to a woman in theatre who has shown exemplary service and sacrifice for a common cause that creates a better society. Crothers, the first woman playwright and director to find commercial success on Broadway, had more than a 30-year theatre career and produces over 25 plays.