Striving to be The Kennedy Center of the West

When 16-year-old Terra Gifft found out that Cathy Rigby’s Peter Pan Broadway was coming to ASU Gammage, she was bursting with excitement.

Gifft loves the performing arts and has a lifelong dream of sharing them with children across the world. Her high school does not have a strong performing arts program due to a lack of funding, and Gammage is her primary connection to the theater.

She faced just one dreadfully familiar obstacle: finances. But that did not stop Gifft, who found a job and saved enough money to see the show. There are few things in life that leave the heart racing and it turns out Peter Pan is one of them.

“The experience was absolutely amazing! It made me realize that the sky really is the limit as long as I have faith, trust and maybe just a little bit of pixie dust,” Gifft says. “Seeing Peter Pan has inspired me to come back to Gammage in hopes of having more magical experiences…it was simply spectacular.”

Over the past 50 years, ASU Gammage has been thrilling the Terras of the world and the Arizona theater-going public by showcasing some of the greatest artists and theatrical performances to hit the stage.

Renowned performers such as Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige, Billy Crystal and Annie Lennox have wowed audiences and a variety of performances continue to attract theater-goers from a vast spectrum of nationalities, cultures and interests. Audience members have even found themselves seated next to celebrities such as Muhammad Ali, Robin Williams or Tom Hanks.

In addition to ASU Gammage’s national fame, it is an essential part of a comprehensive student experience and enriches the lives of the community that surrounds it. As Arizona State University continues to expand and excel, the vision of ASU Gammage becoming the greatest performing arts center on the West Coast during the next 50 years has never been more vivid.

“Why shouldn’t ASU have the greatest artists?” asks ASU Gammage’s Director of Development Peter Means. “My vision for ASU Gammage is to see it become The Kennedy Center of the West.”

ASU Gammage is currently one of the largest presenters of the performing arts in the nation, specifically of Broadway shows. Many of these have sold out and brought immense excitement to the Valley. Broadway series favorites include Disney’s The Lion King, Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables.

“Phantom of the Opera came to ASU Gammage for 10 weeks in 1992 and sold out clean. All 10 weeks,” says Michael Reed, ASU Gammage’s senior director of programs and organizational initiatives. The auditorium seats 3,017 and it has been full many times, he says.

The Beyond Series is also popular and is particularly effective in connecting the theater with the local community and students. Many of the artists not only perform great works but also complete residencies in the area. They participate in activities with the community, creating cultural impact like no other.

ASU Gammage also has brought contemporary artists to the stage, including influential composer Philip Glass, the late choreographer Pina Bausch and members of The Dance Theater of Harlem. All of them used ASU students in the presentation of their works. For ASU Gammage’s 50th anniversary, Glass and the Dance Theater of Harlem will come back to perform at the auditorium. ASU Gammage is also excited to have Philip Glass perform all 20 of his famous Etudes with two other pianists.

The performing arts are a vital part of an educational institution. They portray messages and stories using two of the most common methods of learning: visual and oral. By experiencing both simultaneously, students absorb information about different topics, cultures and ways of thinking.

“Education is not an either/or experience,” says Means. “If you are going to build a well-rounded person who is going to be a national or an international leader they need to have a well-rounded college experience.”

The performing arts are also a catalyst for creativity, which can be applied to many different areas of study.

“The arts inspire and unleash creativity that you might not get anywhere else,” Means says. “Look at most creative engineers that design software. They are musicians, performers or artists. Art expands the mind in a way that math and science alone just can’t do.” Participating in the performing arts also teaches confidence, professional skills and public speaking skills.

He adds that when students select a university, they are often looking for one that has a variety of impressive programs. Having a facility that offers world-renowned musicians, dancers, actors and actresses elevates the entire university just like having a winning football team.

Often students do not have the opportunity to experience the performing arts until they are in college. ASU Gammage works to make the shows affordable for students. In addition to prices as low as $3 a ticket, it pays bus fare for students who cannot afford transportation to shows.

ASU Gammage offers the university performances of international scope and has established worldwide connections with some of the most important institutions and people in the performing arts. What makes this jewel of the West Coast more impressive is that it is self-sustaining and does not receive any funding from the university or the state. ASU Gammage hopes to soon receive an endowment in order to continue to support its partnerships and national connections. Donors and supporters of the theater are what make its accomplishments possible.

To make a donations to ASU Gammage, please contact its development department at 480-965-6059 or at