For Colleen Jennings-Roggensack of Ahwatukee Foothills, who will be celebrating her 20th year as executive director for ASU Gammage in July, the high caliber of audience members makes all the difference in the world.
“We have one of the best audiences in the country,” Jennings-Roggensack said. “We have an audience that’s receptive to both old and new work. Tempe and the metropolitan area is a great environment to be in and I think all those things add in.”
Jennings-Roggensack first came to Arizona with her husband in 1992 when former Arizona State University president Lattie Coor asked her to run the theater. Since then, she has transformed ASU Gammage into one of the top touring markets in the country for Broadway productions — presenting timeless classics such as “White Christmas” and “West Side Story,” along with controversial shows like “Spring Awakening” and the upcoming “American Idiot.”
“When you look at Broadway, it’s a myriad of things,” Jennings-Roggensack said. “Broadway itself has broadened its definition of what’s work, so we’ve always wanted to keep up with the times. We want people to know that we believe we have work for everyone, but not every work is for everyone. We want people to make their own decisions.”
This belief inspired the creation of content guides, holding town hall meetings and informing the community about the varied forms of entertainment that come to Gammage. It is just one aspect of Jenning-Roggensack’s initiative to connect communities and present theater that appeals to a broad spectrum of groups.
“I think what’s made Gammage so successful and so popular is that our mission is connecting communities that we serve and making a connection through art and culture,” Jennings-Roggensack said. “We also look at cross-relating those communities and having cross-cultural experiences so that when someone comes to Gammage they can say, ‘It’s my Gammage.’ It doesn’t just belong to one group.”
ASU Gammage is a completely self-sustaining theater that receives no funding or support from either Arizona State University or the state of Arizona. It currently sponsors 16 to 20 outreach and education programs including Camp Broadway summer camps for youth, working with people in jails and correctional facilities, senior nights, and bringing more than 3,500 school children to see shows at the theater every year.
Gammage also features a three-year artist residency program, where two-time Tony Award-winner Bill T. Jones is currently creating new work while interacting with various groups in the community.
“There’s a number of things that we do across the spectrum that have people able to engage and relate to culture,” Jennings-Roggensack said. “In this day and age, it says that ASU Gammage is an important cultural institution for not only Tempe and the major metropolitan area, but also the state of Arizona.”
In recent years, Gammage has received the opportunity to host the first and only presidential debate in the American Southwest, along with Sen. Barry Goldwater’s state funeral, which Jennings-Roggensack considers to be her proudest accomplishment with the theater.
Apart from her countless achievements in the community, Jennings-Roggensack holds the distinction of being the only Tony Awards-voter in Arizona. She has been a member for almost 19 years, and gets the chance to see nearly 70 plays and musicals every year.
She is particularly excited to see musical adaptations of popular films such as “Ghost” and “Leap of Faith” on Broadway this season, but has also been impressed by a number of top-notch plays in recent years.
“I have a passion for the play,” Jennings-Roggensack said. “My goal in the long term is to have a great play series and a great musical series.”
For the time being, she is thrilled to see musical theater alive and flourishing at ASU Gammage, and hopes to open the eyes of audience members to the arts.
“Albert Einstein said, ‘Never lose a holy curiosity,’” Jennings-Roggensack said. “I think that every time someone comes to the theater and comes to Gammage, they’re serving that holy curiosity.”
ASU Gammage is located at 1200 S. Forest Ave. in Tempe.
For more information, visit www.asugammage.com or call (480) 965-3434.
Patrick Ryan is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. He is a sophomore at Arizona State University.