Lifetime Achievement Theatre Award for Mt. Airy Wolfs
“I was shocked when we were notified,” Ted Wolf said about being told that he and his wife, Stevie, had been chosen to receive the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award by the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theater. “I thought they must be running out of celebrities to give awards to.”
Ted and Stevie Wolf, who are really Albert and Stephanie (which is why, Stevie says, they prefer to be known as Ted and Stevie), are not being cited at the awards ceremony on Oct. 4 because the sponsoring Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia ran out of celebrities. Far from it.
“Ted and Stevie Wolf’s years of leadership and extraordinary vision are exemplary of their indefatigable dedication and passionate commitment to the theater in Philadelphia,” said Theatre Alliance executive director Margie Salvante in announcing their selection. “As visionary advocates for the theater community, they have fostered creativity and excellence through their presence, their ambassadorship and their extraordinary generosity.”
In an interview in the spacious Mt. Airy home where they’ve lived for 52 years, the Wolfs explained that their interest and commitment to culture in Philadelphia doesn’t come from a desire to be performers. “We’re consumers,” Stevie said.
Ted agreed but noted, “We’re more than that. Both of our families brought us up to be responsible citizens and, if we could afford it, to give back. Stevie’s family and my family did that to the best of their abilities.”
Ted grew up in Jenkintown and attended Germantown Friends School, where he was captain of the baseball team. His pride shows when he reports that both his son and grandson have also captained the GFS nine. At Harvard University he met his future wife, who says that her love for the Boston Braves and baseball was what originally brought them together. A Bostonian attending Wellesley College, Stevie says that, “like Ben Franklin, I left Boston in my early years, never to return.”
After Ted’s tour of duty in the Navy, the couple settled in Philadelphia. Armed with a Ph.D. in American history from Bryn Mawr College, Stevie, now 78, taught at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Delaware. Ted, 80, founded Checkpoint, an electronic security company, where he served as chief executive officer until his retirement a decade ago.
Both have always believed in the value of supporting cultural activities. Stevie has served on the boards of Germantown Historical Society, Wyck, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Historical Society and the Atwater Kent Museum.
Their theater support really began when they took their daughter to see the Wilma Theater’s production of Christopher Durang’s “Beyond Therapy” in 1985. “We had never had an experience like that,” they both said. They had always been theater subscribers, but after seeing “Therapy” at the Wilma, “We immediately signed up to subscribe. I got to know the people [at the Wilma],” Ted says. “We contributed. Eventually they asked us to join the board.” Actually, they just asked Ted to join the board, but he never refers to himself as anything but “we.” These two are clearly, after 59 years of marriage, a tight partnership.
His timing was serendipitous. It was during his tenure as chairman of Wilma’s board that the theater decided to be part of the development of Avenue of the Arts along South Broad Street. The new Wilma, the first theater built in Philadelphia since the Forrest appeared in 1928, opened on the northeast corner of Broad and Spruce Streets in 1996.
At that time Ted was also the founding chairman of the board of the National Constitution Center, a project that has since grown into one of Philadelphia’s major cultural drawing cards. Just this year he retired from that board and is now its chairman emeritus.
While serving on the Wilma board, he was also on the Philadelphia Orchestra Board. Feeling that cultural institutions needed more cooperation and collaboration, he suggested to the Orchestra and the Wilma that they might find some way to work together. The piece he proposed, which both groups enthusiastically supported, was Tom Stoppard's and André Previn’s “Every Good Boy Deserves Favor,” a play with orchestral accompaniment.
That collaboration, in November, 2002, led the Wolfs to create the Ted and Stevie Wolf Award for New Approaches to Collaboration that is given annually at the Barrymore Awards ceremony. The Wolfs' interest and encouragement have led to many companies working together. “I do not see the opera, the orchestra, the theater, et cetera as separate. If you think about the kind of things the various institutions are good at, and you think about the various facilities in which these events take place [then you have] to think about how much more impact they could have if they [collaborated],” Ted says.
“Theatre is an impression of life. It tells us, not all the time and not all the time perfectly, who we are and what we’re doing. It frames life in a way that is not only something that can make money because it’s entertainment but can also really make us more conscious of why we’re here, what we’re here for and who the other people are who are here with us.”
“You can’t stop theater,” Stevie adds. “It seems to be hardwired into all of us. The did theater in the concentration camps. During [the Middle Ages] you had two kinds of theater: 'jongleurs' who just ran around and entertained people, and passion plays that were meant to express really deep emotions and thoughts and stuff. I’m sure primitive man had some theatrical thing in mind when he was drawing those animals on the caves.”
Stevie and Ted Wolf have been supporting culture in Philadelphia for more than a half-century. One of Ted’s pet peeves is the constant reference to Philadelphia as being 90 minutes from New York. “New York,” he emphasizes, “is 90 minutes from Philadelphia. I really mean that. This is a great place for artists to live and work. When you look at regional theater life in Philadelphia, it’s second to none.”
The Wolfs will receive their award at the Walnut Street Theatre on Monday, Oct. 4, 7 p.m. For more information or tickets to the ceremony, call 215-413-7150 or visit www.phillytheatretic.com