“When I got the call from The Drama League telling me that I was to receive this honor, I remember exactly what I said,” explained Renaissance man Steve Martin from the stage of the 2017 Drama League Benefit Gala at the Plaza Hotel. “I said, ‘Whoa! I am way too high to deal with this right now.’”
Martin, whose new play Meteor Shower is currently in previews on Broadway, was honored by The League November 6, 2017 for his career as an actor, comedian, musician, writer, director, and producer, which spans over 50 years.
Kevin Kline, Tony Award winner and close personal friend of Martin, hosted the evening of jokes and performances, which raised funds to support The Drama League’s programming and education initiatives, which aim to nurture burgeoning artists. The League’s Directors Project has helped launch careers for Rachel Chavkin (Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812), Diane Paulus (Waitress), Moritz von Steulpnagel (Present Laughter) and many others. PepsiCo was also honored with the 2017 Arts Ally Award, which was presented by stage and screen star Judith Light.
While thanking The League for their recognition, Martin explained that he encourages playwrights to write their plays the way they want to write them. “Playwrights come to me and they say, ‘Steve, how do I get my plays on Broadway like yours?’” he explained. “I always say the same thing. ‘One, be very creative. Don’t let anyone tell you how to write your plays. And two, already be famous,’” he laughed.
On a more serious note, Martin expressed the importance of funding arts programs that help young people develop their voices and their careers. “I was a young artist at one time and so I can identify with the need for nurturing and getting support, especially for writers and playwrights,” he said. “You can’t just write a play and then go put it on. You need some help, support, and backing. It’s important, and a lot of the work that the Drama League has done has lead to important plays being produced.”
Lea DeLaria (Orange is the New Black, The Rocky Horror Show) expressed similar beliefs, saying, “Without young artists we don’t have old artists, or work for old artists. We’ve got to continue to nurture young art.” DeLaria honored Martin with a performance of “Dentist!” the song Martin sang as the sadistic Dr. Orin Scrivello in the Little Shop of Horrors film.
“Art is what makes the world open, loving, and more connected,” said actor Jenn Colella, who stars as Captain Beverley Bass in Come From Away. “We need to continue to spread that message—that art is what’s going to continue to connect us and make us more well-rounded human beings.”
Colella, who auctioned tickets to Come from Away and a meet-and-greet experience through the event’s online auction, presented Lauren Worsham (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder) singing “Here I Am” from the musical adaptation of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the film in which Martin plays conman Freddy Benson.
The evening also featured performances by friends of Martin and the Drama League alike, including Kermit the Frog, Jennifer Simard (Hello, Dolly!, Disaster!) and the Gimme Four Quartet, Orfeh (Legally Blonde, the upcoming Pretty Woman), Ed Helms (The Office, The Hangover), Carol Kane (The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, My Blue Heaven with Martin), Alex Brightman (School of Rock), and Justin Guarini (In Transit).
Through comedy, song, and dance, The Drama League raised (according to Martin) more money for their programs than they have in any previous year. “We need each other. We have to care about each other,” said Stan Ponte, Board President of The Drama League. “Through the transformative power of theatre, it is our responsibility to open our hearts and let the sun shine in.”