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Jennings-Roggensack to receive Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theater

ASU Gammage executive director awarded for making theater more inclusive


A woman stands in the seats of a theater

Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director of ASU Gammage and vice president for cultural affairs at ASU. Photo by Tim Trumble/ASU News

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May 31, 2024

Colleen Jennings-Roggensack has spent decades working to make ASU Gammage more inclusive to both audiences and those in the theater community, and on June 16, she’ll receive one of Broadway’s top honors — a Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theater.

“I am completely overwhelmed,” said Jennings-Roggensack, executive director of ASU Gammage and vice president for cultural affairs at Arizona State University. She’ll be recognized during the Tony Awards broadcast on June 16.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think this was going to happen,” she said.

As Arizona’s only voter for the Tony Awards, she travels back and forth from Arizona to New York many times a year to see every show — not only to inform her vote but also to scope out which shows to bring to Tempe.

ASU Gammage is part of a network known as “the road,” which presents touring versions of Broadway shows, and she is vice chair of the road for the Broadway League Board of Governors.

Jennings-Roggensack created the ASU Gammage mission of Connecting Communities to help make a difference through the shared experience of the arts. These programs have brought arts experiences to children, military families, people who are incarcerated, students in low-income communities and others who might not otherwise get the chance.

Watch the Tony Awards

The 77th annual Tony Awards, with Ariana DeBose as host, will be shown on CBS at 5 p.m. Arizona time on Sunday, June 16, and also will be live-streamed on Paramount +.

“What’s really been thrilling is the work that we have done at ASU Gammage underscores our charter of inclusion,” she said.

“ASU Gammage’s mission of Connecting Communities is one of the reasons that the American Theater Wing and the Broadway League are honoring me, because it's work that's dedicated to inclusion, it's work that's dedicated to looking at different voices on Broadway and it’s dedicated to who comes into the business and how we bring people in.”

For example, Military Family First Nights have provided thousands of tickets to families of deployed military personnel.

“They meet with the cast, which is as much an honor for the cast as it is for the military families, and it’s a program that’s underwritten by our donors in the Valley,” said Jennings-Roggensack, whose father was in the Air Force.

The School to Work program lets high school students explore careers in the arts. ASU Gammage staff lead interactive workshops on behind-the-scenes areas such as programming, marketing, fund-raising, operations and audience services, and then the students attend a show. This past year, high school students saw “Les Miserables” in December and “MJ” in March.

“We are about connecting communities at ASU Gammage. And the thing that connects us together are our stories. And Broadway and 'the road' are great at telling our stories,” she said.

“I always tell our companies when they come in, ‘You are going to knit this country back together story by story.’”

Opening hearts and minds

Jennings-Roggensack, who came to ASU in 1992, sees theater as a connecting force that must represent America. That belief drove her decision to present “Angels in America,” the controversial 1993 play by Tony Kushner about AIDS and homosexuality in the 1980s. It ran for a week in fall 1995 — one of the first touring stops.

“We need to know everything that Broadway is about, not just some things and not just the classics,” she said.

“I believe theater can make the unfamiliar familiar. So we get to know each other and understand each other.”

Earlier this year, ASU Gammage presented “The Kite Runner,” which tells the story of a man in Afghanistan who must face his past. 

“We had 30,000 people see the work, saying how important it was to understand Afghanistan. And when you can see something move you on the stage, your heart and mind open up,” she said.

Jennings-Roggensack’s work on inclusion extends beyond Tempe to Broadway itself. After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the Broadway League released a letter that she helped to write.

“One of the things we said — and I get inspiration from President Crow — is that it is not just about the statements you make, but what you do.

“On our Broadway League board of directors, which is roughly 45 people, the only person of color for a very long time on that board was me.

“So we said, ‘We need to change that up.’”

The bylaws were changed and nine African Americans were added to the board.

The Broadway League also committed to an audit of the industry and other initiatives.

ASU alum designs Tony dress for Jennings-Roggensack

Photo of Sarah Abdallah with Colleen Jennings-Roggensack inside ASU Gammage.  Jennings-Roggensack is wearing the two-toned green dress designed by Abdallah.

Last fall, ASU alumna Sarah Abdallah (left) was presented with the opportunity to design a dress for Colleen Jennings-Roggensack to wear at the 2024 Tony Awards and red-carpet event.
Read story 

Keeping the shows going

The Tony is also honoring Jennings-Roggensack for her tireless work during the pandemic. When the Broadway shutdown was announced, she was in New York attending an off-Broadway play called “We’re Gonna Die.”

“Immediately we put together nearly 50 task forces to say, ‘How do we reopen Broadway? How do we reopen the road?’ I was on 41 of those 50 task forces,” said Jennings-Roggensack, who would start Zoom meetings at 6 a.m. in Arizona and jump from one Zoom to the next all day during that time.

“What are we going to do? How do we get it back together again? Our initial thought was we were going to get Broadway open, then the road.

“Well, as it would have it, we opened the road first.”

The ASU Gammage team scrambled to secure everyone’s safety.

“We were meeting with immunologists from Finland, Israel, Harvard, our own folks at ASU,” she said.

“My parents, who have passed away, would've thought, ‘Finally she went to medical school.’"

Everyone was tested and each show had a “COVID manager.”

“We never closed down. We never had a show wiped out. We had one company manager who got COVID and never left the hotel. And luckily, they had an assistant company manager and we worked via Zoom. God bless Zoom,” she said.

Jennings-Roggensack must cast her Tony Award vote by June 14, the Friday before the show.

“It used to be my tradition to walk my ballot to KPMG, which is across from the Plaza, and I used to hand it in,” she said.

“And it was, ‘There’s Meryl Streep handing in her vote.’

“Well now we get a Tony voter app.”

Jennings-Roggensack will be recognized during the show, but there’s no danger of her being played off the stage for speaking too long.

“I had to record my acceptance speech. I don't know if they'll do the whole acceptance speech or a clip of it, but they'll show my face and then they'll zoom to me in the audience. That kind of thing. Because the show’s already four hours long.

“The stars of the night are best actor, best actress, best musical, best play. And the rest of us are starlets.”

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