TONY JUDGE, COLLEEN JENNINGS-ROGGENSACK.
Written by: Linda A. Jaussi.
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think, great American Theater? Most likely, Broadway flashed before you in big lighted marquees. When you ponder the musical stage’s greatest contributors, you may point to Hal Prince, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kristen Chenoweth. But, out in the audience, somewhere amidst the crowds, Colleen Jennings- Roggensack may be taking notes. Colleen is the only Tony Awards Judge living in Arizona. She is female, African America, a mother, a wife, former dancer, Director of ASU Gammage, Assistant Director of Cultural Affairs and a massive fine arts promoter.
I caught up with Colleen in her Tempe office. It was a tight squeeze in her busy schedule. She was just back from New York and had only an hour before rushing off to a lunch meeting. When my hour was up, her assistant knocked on the door to remind her, it was time to move on. Director, Jennings-Roggensack treks back and forth between the west and the east coast several times a year. While in New York, she catches three or four performances each trip; and is always watching for the next show stopper.
Colleen actively pursues those performances she considers to be the finest and seeks to book them at The Gammage in Tempe, Arizona where Colleen is The Executive Director of the Gammage and ASU Assistant Director of Cultural Affairs.
Interestingly, Colleen’s parents unwittingly started their daughter on an arts mission when she was five years old. The Jennings wanted their children to be well-groomed in the arts. Colleen had a diverse upbringing, never calling anywhere in particular home. Her father was in the military, so the family moved often. Wherever they moved, Mr. and Mrs. Jennings exposed them to the culture in that area. Colleen recalled her first exposure to the theater as a five year old after her family moved to New York City. Her parents could not afford good tickets to an opera, but wanted their children to experience a live performance. They stood in the mezzanine for over two hours and listened. “It was the most amazing thing I had ever heard,” said Director Jennings-Roggensack. She did not get tired, or cry. She stood in awe, just listening. Good art has a way of reviving the soul and making us more refined, kind and caring as human beings. It changed Colleen Jennings-Roggensack’s life forever and started her down a road that would help bring fine arts to the world and in particular, Arizona.
In essence, she is grooming the west with cultural arts, just has her art loving parents had done. Under Colleen’s direction, The Gammage Auditorium has become one of the top Broadway Touring markets in the nation. She actively seeks out the finest productions and works to book them at The Gammage.
This spring, The Gammage welcomed BILLY ELLIOT, and MAMMA MIA. From June 7 -12, the classic, Les Miserables will his the Arizona stage. Colleen’s efforts have been a great boost as an economic resource in the Valley of the Sun. She has found ways to give back. The Gammage has sponsored Army Family days for military families with loved ones stationed away. From 1994 to 1997, Colleen was a Presidential appointee to the National Council on the Arts. She has also worked with Creative Capital, which is one of the few fine arts councils offering grants to individuals; and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the visual arts.
Colleen and her husband met in Colorado while attending college. After school, Colleen moved to the East Coast and was mentored under the hand of two top fine arts directors. She learned quickly and soon was promoted. Later, she married her long time sweetheart. Both professionals had jobs in different locations. Somehow, they managed to maintain a strong, committed union.
Then, in 1992, the opportunity came for Colleen and her husband to have jobs in the same state, and in the same city. The couple jumped at the chance. At first, they did not know how long they would remain, perhaps a few years. That was almost twenty years ago. Their daughter was born and raised in Arizona.
Early in the morning on May 3rd 2011, a few dozen phones rang. Some wondered who could be calling so early. When they heard the news, “You have been nominated for a Tony Award,” the sleep rubbed from their eyes and big smiles spread across their faces.
This years Tony Awards will air live, June 12th. Colleen gave me a heads up on shows to look for. Oddly, a show roughly and rudely based on the founding of American Religion, called THE BOOK OF MORMON, is getting a lot of attention with 14 Tony nominations, including Best Musical. The show was written by The SOUTH PARK people, and as one might suppose, it is edgy, blatantly disrespectful, yet comical. Some have called it, “a roasting.” Don’t be fooled by the title. The show is not about The Book of Mormon, or its heroes and heroines who lived on the American continent between 600 BC and 400 AD. Rather, it is a crude history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Colleen recounted, that as far as she knows, only one person has walked out on the play. Most take it in stride and laugh at the similarities they see in themselves.
Other shows receiving multiple nods this year include: another religious themed show based on the movie SISTER ACT. HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS starring John Larroquette and Harry Potter’s, Daniel Radcliffe is nominated for 8 Tony Awards including best revival. ANYTHING GOES starring Sutton Foster, and Joel Grey is nominated for 9 Tony Awards, including best revival. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN has 4 nominations and stars Aaron Tveit and Norbert Leo Butz. It is based on the novel and movie of the same name. SCOTTSBORO BOYS discusses prejudices in the 1930s. Other shows receiving multiple nominees include: THE NORMAL HEART, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, and WAR HORSE.