2020 MARTHA JOSEPH PRIZE
A play she assisted with while attending the University of Colorado shifted popular arts advocate, patron and philanthropist Roe Green’s entire life trajectory. The Deputy by Rolf Hochhuth, the controversial 1963 play that portrays Pope Pius XII as having failed to take action or speak out against the Holocaust, did it.
“I still remember that play that started everything,” the CEO of the Roe Green Foundation reminisces. “So, I always ask students after seeing a play, ‘Did it make a difference in your life?’ If they answer yes, then I know I’m making a difference.”
Students and theater have loomed large in her life. Soon, with the completion of the new Maltz Performing Arts Center attached to The Temple – Tifereth Israel at Case Western Reserve University, where she donated $10 million, three college theaters will bear her name. The Roe Green Center for Theatre and Dance at Kent State University, where she received her MA in theater in 1980, opened after she had pledged the largest capital gift in the university’s history to fund the project in 2006. The building enlarged the School of Theater and Dance’s footprint to more than 70,000 square feet and united the two under one roof for the first time at KSU. The University of Colorado, where Roe earned her BA in theater and communications, is currently refurbishing its theater complex that will be named for her, as well.
In high school, she was more interested in art and painting. Then at Colorado, she took a theater lecture class. She raised her hand when the professor asked for volunteers to assist with the play he was directing, The Deputy. That led to offers to stage manage other productions, and she was on her way to professional work in the theatre. Roe later stage managed productions for Cain Park, the Cleveland Opera, the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, and the Singing Angels.
She launched her foundation in 2003, shortly after her mother Sylvia’s death. Her mother and father, Ben, a distinguished federal judge, taught her how to give back to the world, so she decided to focus on philanthropy as her calling, rather than a career in theater or art. However, she was a competitive ballroom dancer for 12 years and is a highly requested public speaker. At CWRU, she funded the Judge Ben C. Green professorship and the law library named for her father.
She particularly enjoys working with students because “it keeps me young,” she says. “I get to talk to a lot of students and hear their ideas, and to me, education is the most important thing you can get. My mom used to say, ‘They can’t take away what you know.’”
More recently, Roe has served on the board of the Dramatists Guild Foundation in New York. She funded the Roe Green Traveling Masters program, a national effort to provide free master classes, workshops and public events regarding the craft of writing. The intent is to supplement arts education for students and professionals who may have limited access.
“It isn’t just New York. There’s good theater all over the country, not just New York,” she says. “Cleveland has more culture and theater than we do people, and that’s what makes this city terrific. We have some of the finest theater in the country, starting with The Cleveland Play House.”
Ms. Green serves on the board of The Cleveland Play House, where she is the honorary producer of New Ground, a festival that showcases new work in the performing arts. Laura Kepley, artistic director, The Cleveland Play House, believes that The Roe Green Fund for New American Plays, allows her theater to commission, develop and produce new plays that will shape American culture for decades to come.
“Visionary philanthropist Roe Green understands that new plays are the lifeblood of the theater,” she says. “Thanks to her generous support, there are dozens of new plays in the world that have entertained and enlightened thousands of people and provided thrilling opportunities for hundreds of artists.”
Additionally, Roe is honorary producer for the new play workshop in Chautauqua, NY and serves on the dean’s advisory board at the University of Colorado, on the President’s advisory council of Case Western Reserve University, and on the advisory board of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. She is on the International board of Governor’s for the Shaw Festival in Canada and is the co-chair of the Israeli arts committee for the Jewish Federation in Cleveland.
Considering her prolific philanthropic contributions and arts patronage, she says, “I just feel very, very blessed that I am able to help.”