BY ALICE YORK
Last month, more than 300 leaders from Chicago’s business and civic communities came together for the ninth annual 2018 Steppenwolf Women in the Arts fundraising luncheon at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel to honor Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor Sarah Paulson for her indelible contribution to the field, including, most recently, Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated biopic, The Post.
Kicking off the event with a VIP reception, attendees then proceeded to the dining room to enjoy a gourmet lunch (culminating in a decadent dessert of colorful French macarons, fruit, and chocolates) while learning about Steppenwolf’s education programs. Steppenwolf Ensemble Member Audrey Francis introduced an inspiring video by Joel Moorman that detailed the dedicated work they do with programs such as Storycatchers Theatre.
Steppenwolf ensemble member Amy Morton introduced Ms. Paulson with kind remarks and a video, assembled by Donna La Pietra and Kurtis Productions, highlighting the actress’s remarkable career. What followed was an intimate dialogue between two longtime friends and colleagues: Ms. Paulson and Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning Steppenwolf Ensemble Member Tracy Letts, who just appeared in the Oscar-nominated Lady Bird. The candid conversation covered her impressive career onstage and on-screen, from early career projects, including Letts’s play Killer Joe, and Talley’s Folley, to more recent work, such as her turn as Marcia Clark on American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, which earned her a Golden Globe, SAG Award, and an Emmy.
With a huge smile and infectious laughter, Paulson also discussed her mentors, crediting Diane Keaton and Jessica Lane as women who have inspired her and supported her throughout her own critically-acclaimed career. Despite this acclaim, she revealed that she still prefers to audition for roles, saying, “I like to earn it—I like to know that I fought for it and earned it. I don’t like just walking onto a set.” The actress revealed a humility and sense of self-reflection that was clearly shown in her playful back-and-forth with Letts and her generosity to those in attendance. She graciously took a few questions from the audience, offering advice to young actors as well as a glimpse into her method.
The event, which in the past has honored luminaries like Joan Allen, Laurie Metcalf, and Phylicia Rashad. raised nearly $200,000 for Steppenwolf’s educational and professional development programs, including the nationally recognized Steppenwolf for Young Adults and the School at Steppenwolf, as well as its Professional Leadership Programs that provide apprenticeships, fellowships, and internships for the next generation of arts managers and producers.
Notable guests included Steppenwolf ensemble members Audrey Francis, Caroline Neff, and Amy Morton; Steppenwolf Trustees Sarah Beardsley, Amy Bluhm, Meredith Bluhm-Wolf, Marlene Breslow-Blitstein, Elizabeth H. Connelly, Keating and Caroline Crown, Nora Daley, Beth Davis, Amy Eshleman, Caryn Harris, Donna La Pietra, Mary Ludford, Heather Mitchell, Cari B. Sacks, Stephanie B. Smith, Colette Cachey Smithburg, and Helen Zell, this year’s lead sponsor of the event; Carrie Coon, Holland Taylor, Kirsten Fitzgerald, Mary Kathryn Hartigan, Lori Healey, Christie Hefner, Noreen Gallagher, Debbie Marchese, Joyce Chelberg, and Mary A. Dempsey.
Steppenwolf Theatre Company is the nation’s premier ensemble theater. Formed by a collective of actors in 1976, the ensemble has grown to 49 members who represent a remarkable cross-section of actors, directors and playwrights. Thrilling and powerful productions from Balm in Gilead to August: Osage County—and accolades that include the National Medal of Arts and 12 Tony Awards—have made the theater legendary. Steppenwolf produces hundreds of performances and events annually in its three spaces: the 515-seat Downstairs Theatre, the 299-seat Upstairs Theatre and the 80-seat 1700 Theatre. Artistic programing includes a seven-play season; a two-play Steppenwolf for Young Adults season; Visiting Company engagements; and LookOut, a multi-genre performances series. Education initiatives include the nationally recognized work of Steppenwolf for Young Adults, which engages 15,000 participants annually from Chicago’s diverse communities; the esteemed School at Steppenwolf; and Professional Leadership Programs for arts administration training. While firmly grounded in the Chicago community, nearly 40 original Steppenwolf productions have enjoyed success both nationally and internationally, including Broadway, Off-Broadway, London, Sydney, Galway and Dublin. Anna D. Shapiro is the Artistic Director and David Schmitz is the Executive Director. Eric Lefkofsky is Chair of Steppenwolf’s Board of Trustees. For additional information, visit steppenwolf.org.
Photo credit: Kyle Flubacker and Michael Courier