PHILADELPHIA – When former University of Pennsylvania professor Catherine “Kaki” Marshall saw the efforts major Canadian cities make each year to put on quality theater festivals for children, she decided that needed to happen here.
And in 1985 it did, when, thanks to her efforts as assistant director at Penn’s Annenberg Center for Performing Arts, the University hosted the inaugural Philadelphia International Children’s Festival, the oldest and one of the largest in the country.
“It was such a wake-up call,” Marshall said. “It’s so necessary for a culture to have children exposed to the best in arts.”
To establish the first festival, Marshall said she secured partial funding from Walter Annenberg, a long-time benefactor of Penn programs. In fact, he and his wife, Leonore, came to opening night.
For the festival and a lifelong career in theater arts, Penn alumna Marshall will receive the Penn Creative Spirit Award at the 77th Annual Alumni Award of Merit Gala, which will begin at 6 p.m., Friday, Nov. 4. The event will be hosted in her former workplace, the Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut St.
Established as part of Penn's efforts to promote its arts and culture offerings, the Creative Spirit Award recognizes Penn alumni who have shown life-long commitment to the arts through outstanding personal achievements and/or philanthropic support.
“We chose Kaki because of the significant effect she has had on the theater program at Penn,” said Sheila Raman, director of development for arts and culture in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations. “Generations of Penn students who studied or performed in the theater programs have been influenced by her.”
Marshall’s life at Penn began long before her role as a theater arts professor and producer. She graduated in 1945 from Penn’s College of Women and married Wharton graduate Joe Marshall. Her first job at Penn was assistant director of Penn Players, which encompassed all student theater except Mask and Wig. After time off to raise her family, she was asked to return to the Annenberg Center, and then, with a master’s degree from Columbia University in hand, she was invited to teach in the theater major, then housed in the English department.
She left Annenberg in 1989 and continued to teach theater arts through the early 1990s. But her involvement in theater didn’t end there. She is a founding board member of Interact and has served on the boards of the Philadelphia Young Playwrights, Mum Puppet Theatre and People’s Light & Theater as well as Big Brothers/Big Sisters. She has been honored by the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia and with a Barrymore Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Marshalls, parents of six children, three of whom are Penn alumni, divide their time between an apartment in Center City and a shore home in Strathmere, N.J.