Karen Azenberg acknowledges that it’s “a crazy, wild range of recipients,” but she’s happy to be included.
The artistic director of Pioneer Theatre Company was honored at the annual Broadway Salutes ceremony at the theater district’s Times Square Visitor Center in New York City Sept. 24.
Presented by the Broadway League, the same organization that produces the Tony Awards, and the Coalition of Broadway Unions and Guilds, Broadway Salutes recognizes a variety of Broadway professionals who have working in the industry for 25, 35 and 50 years in their respective theatrical craft.
“Broadway Salutes is a recognition in an industry that is usually considered to be transient in nature of the people who work on Broadway as they achieve a milestone in no matter what aspect of the profession,” Azenberg said. “We’re all in the same pool: stagehands, directors, choreographers, agents, actors, makeup artists. It’s a long list of individuals who can be honored that includes every single Broadway guild, union and organization.”
Azenberg was awarded for her contributions over a 25-year period, alongside legendary director Hal Prince, who received the 50-year honor, and famous costume designer William Ivey Long, at 35 years.
Other recipients this year include production designer Tony Walton; “Newsies” director Jeff Calhoun; Greg Scholl, an executive director of Lincoln Center; director-choreographer Susan Strohman; and Thelma Pollard, most famous for designing the makeup for “The Phantom of the Opera,” along with individuals whose names are not generally listed in Playbills, such as ushers, dressers and agents.
Azenberg’s first position on Broadway was working as a non-union management assistant in the premiere production of playwright Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing” and the Fats Waller musical revue “Ain’t Misbehavin.’ ” Azenberg’s first Actors’ Equity Union job was stage manager of “ ‘Master Harold’ and the boys,” which starred Danny Glover, with James Earl Jones taking on the role later in the show’s run.
“One of my jobs was knocking on the actors’ doors and saying, ‘Five minutes until curtain.’ It was something out of the movies,” she said. “Can you imagine walking into the Lyceum Theatre as a 20-something and working with Danny Glover and later James Earl Jones?”
Azenberg recalled that Glover chased a would-be thief down 45th Street and tackled an assailant to return a woman’s purse. “People around the woman were telling her ‘Do you know your handbag was saved by Danny Glover?’ ”
Working with Jones, the legendary Tony- and Emmy-winning actor who is perhaps most well-known as the voice of Darth Vader in the Star Wars franchise, “was a lovely, lovely experience. He really was just the nicest guy and made everyone feel completely comfortable around him,” she said.
The PTC artistic director has served as president of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, the largest industry organization of its type, for the past six years and is about to step down from the position after serving in the organization for 16 years.
Interviewed while she happened to be writing what will be her last letter to the membership, Azenberg said, “It’s really the completion of my move to Utah, finishing up my role as president of the SDC.”
During her tenure, SDC established the Zelda Fichandler Award, which is presented with a $5,000 grant, and strengthened the organization by appointing regional representatives, along with other structural improvements.
With the Broadway Salutes recognition, Azenberg joined an elite group of Broadway dignitaries that includes her father. Emanuel “Manny” Azenberg, a theater producer who recently received a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award, received the Broadway Salutes honor when the awards were first presented five years ago, for his 50-year association with the industry.
Azenberg was included in a Broadway Salutes video produced by Broadway.com that can be viewed at broadway.com/videos/155098/broadway-salutes-watch-beloved-theater-industry-pros-share-stories-of-the-stage/#play.