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Inside the American Theatre Wing and the Tony Awards with Heather Hitchens

In the first part of this Q&A series, American Theatre Wing president and CEO Heather Hitchens explains the Wing’s involvement in the Tony Awards and her take on the purpose of the awards.

Heather Hitchens attends the 2023 Tony Awards (Credit: Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

The American Theatre Wing might best be known as one of the presenters of the Tony Awards — as in “I’d like to thank the American Theater Wing” — but the duties of the Wing encompass far more than the awards that recognize excellence on Broadway. Many people don’t realize that the Wing is a nonprofit service organization whose mission is to support new work, champion artists and theater professionals through education and training and honor theatrical excellence. And that work extends beyond Broadway.

“The Wing is the big tent of theater,” explained Heather Hitchens, president and CEO of the Wing. “It has commercial theater, not-for-profit theater, regional theater under one roof as one ecology.”

As president and CEO, Hitchens oversees programs that serve the entire theatrical ecosystem. Hitchens joined the Wing in 2011, having spent many years in arts administration. But Hitchens came to the administrative side from the artist side. A gifted percussionist, she earned her bachelor’s degree in music. While working at a Pennsylvania radio station, a colleague suggested Hitchens apply for a marketing internship at the American Music Theater Festival in Philadelphia. But once she got there, the woman in charge pegged Hitchens for the development sector. After that summer, Hitchens pursued a master’s in arts administration, which she earned from Drexel University. 

Hitchens has served as the executive director of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, president of Meet the Composer and executive director of the New York State Council on the Arts. Her experience in development, government, education and administration equipped her to lead the Wing, where she has tripled the organization’s budget and expanded its programs.

In this series, Hitchens will share details about the Wing, its programs and priorities. 

But given that the 2024 Tony Awards will take place on June 16, we’ll begin with the Wing’s relationship to the awards, including exactly what the Wing does for the Tonys and how Hitchens views the awards. Here, Hitchens discusses what it takes to administer one the four major awards for arts and entertainment in America, how theater can attract mainstream attention outside of the Tonys and how important the Tonys have become to the life of Broadway shows.

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