When Audrey Johnson attended youth theater productions, anyone there could easily identify her, according to her friend Allyson Primack. Johnson was easily the most enthusiastic member of the audience, known for a loud “woo woo!” she gave for kids on stage. When Johnson died last November from cancer at age 56, seven theaters honored her by dimming their lights.
Primack now works with the Audrey Johnson Theatre Foundation, created in honor of her friend’s passion. The foundation’s goal is to ensure that all children in Arizona, regardless of their financial situation, have the opportunity to experience live theater. Through the foundation’s website, theaters can provide tickets to nonprofit organizations, which can then give the tickets to needy children and families. The foundation will also offer spots with acting camps and workshops. Anyone can apply for a placement, though selection is need-based.
The foundation will hold a kickoff event – featuring a live band, a live auction, performances from actors featuring popular songs and strolling musicians – on Nov. 29 at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton is even expected to record a video for the kickoff, Primack said.
Vendors will also be in attendance to give people a chance to do some Black Friday shopping, she added. Portions of the proceeds will go to the foundation.
One of the goals of the foundation, she said, is to give children a chance to gain skills that come from performing live, an idea that was close to Johnson’s heart.
“She really believed that being part of theater really helps with self-confidence,” Primack said of Johnson, who had been a member of Congregation Beth Israel in Scottsdale.
Johnson, originally from Highland Park, Ill., graduated from the University of Arizona in 1978, according to the foundation’s website. She remained in the Grand Canyon State, where she married and had a daughter, Haley.
Johnson became involved in youth theater in Arizona through Haley, often attending local productions. She even created the position of parent coordinator at Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre in 1999.
“She would spend any of her free time seeing any local theater anywhere,” Primack said.
Even cancer could not stop Johnson from supporting those children, she added, and she still saw five shows the week before she died. “She lost her voice, but she still kept going to these shows.”
After her death, Johnson received an AriZoni Award, the state’s version of the Tonys, for Outstanding Contribution to Theater. The National Youth Arts Awards created the Audrey Award for parent volunteer of the year.
Primack herself has close ties to the theater community. Her son Sam has been part of the touring cast for “The Addams Family,” giving her the chance to see different organizations in different states provide children with the opportunity to see a live show. She resigned from the Maricopa County Public Defender’s Office to devote her time to the foundation.
So far, the foundation has partnered with 18 local theaters, as well as nonprofits such as UMOM and Singleton Moms, Primack said. The foundation intends to carry on Johnson’s love of theater by instilling her passion in the next generation.
“We want to make Arizona known not only for great theater,” she said, “but for the charitable feeling among the theaters.”
What: Audrey Johnson Theatre Foundation kickoff event
When: 6-9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29
Where: Valley of the Sun JCC, 12701 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Cost: $50 adults, $25 students and children