Broadway Power Broker and Arts Supporter
To many Manhattanites, Gerald Schoenfeld’s name is synonymous with the revitalization of Broadway. As Chairman of the venerable Shubert Organization, he oversees the operation of sixteen Broadway theaters in New York City, including their extensive refurbishment efforts, while spearheading the extraordinary community effort to rehabilitate the Times Square Theater District.
The son of a fur coat manufacturer who was born and raised in New York City, Schoenfeld attended NYU Law School and started his career on the legal end of the entertainment industry. “My mentors were all lawyers,” he says. Schoenfeld got a job in a law firm that represented Shubert and ultimately became its chairman in 1972. Among other accomplishments, the Shubert Organization pioneered the use of credit cards and automated ticketing services and was instrumental in the creation of the TKTS ticket booth in Duffy Square.
In a brief hiatus from the demands of his dawn to midnight schedule, which includes appearances at numerous Broadway ceremonies, Schoenfeld talked to Education Update about his lifelong passion—and perhaps his greatest challenge – “to stimulate awareness of the importance of the arts. Economically it is just given lip service. There is no continuous, sustained effort to support the theater,” he adds. Ultimately, he realized that “we needed to energize the educational system by including artistic and cultural awareness in the school curriculum.” Over the past decades, Schoenfeld helped introduce two programs into the New York City schools that blossomed for a short time but ultimately were discontinued —a “drama-enriched program” with the New York City Board of Education which once had 110 participating high schools, and a program of awards to teachers who included arts in their curriculum.
Yet sometimes a door closes in one area and opens in another, and that is precisely what happened to Schoenfeld. In September 2005, the New York City Department of Education announced its partnership with Freddie Gershon, Chairman of Music Theater International (MTI), initiating a ground-breaking musical theater mentorship program in eight NYC middle and intermediate schools using Gershon’s Broadway Junior musicals. (See Let the Show Go On: Freddie Gershon Brings Musical Theater to Students in this issue.) As a show of support for the key role of arts education, Schoenfeld’s Shubert Foundation is donating $75,000 to support the project.
“Getting this curriculum underway has been a lifelong effort,” explains Schoenfeld. And he’s betting that the third time is the charm: “Once people understand what this does for schoolchildren and their ability to appreciate the arts, it will be a success. Not everyone can be a sports figure,” he adds.
Although Schoenfeld’s accolades are many, he is particularly proud of a Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed upon him in December 2005 by NYC Comptroller William Thompson lauding him for the “vision, dedication, and expertise [he has brought] to the world of New York theater.” And though most know of Schoenfeld’s esteemed legal expertise, few may be aware that he holds an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from both CUNY and Emerson College. But what may be his most lasting memento is the recent renaming of the former Plymouth Theatre on West 45th Street in his honor by the Shubert Organization’s Board of Directors. The new Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre now ensures that his name will be permanently in lights.#