Usually on this blog I try to write about events you, too, could attend, or places you, too, could go here in NYC. But every once in a while the fact that I write this blog gets me an invite to an event I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to go to, and then I get to share it with you so you can live vicariously. Last Monday was one of those times, when I was invited to go to the Creative Alternatives of New York (CANY) gala at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

I have to admit, what first drew me in were the hosts and one of the guests of honor — the event was co-hosted by Broadway veterans Ann Hampton Callaway and TONY® Award-winner Cady Huffman, and one of the honorees was the one and only Kelli O’Hara. Kelli was presented with the Leadership Award for Arts & Healing presented by Andre Bishop, Producing Artistic Director of Lincoln Center Theater. But when I received the invite, I was also intrigued by the organization’s mission and history:

For over thirty years, Creative Alternatives of New York (CANY) has pioneered the use of drama therapy groups to help empower people who have endured trauma to rebuild their lives. Founded at Department of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital, CANY now works with leading social service agencies, special schools, and community centers serving over 1,000 children and adults in the greater New York area annually.  Cultivated over years of clinical and artistic practice, CANY has developed its own unique trauma-informed drama therapy model to help clients move beyond their past and into a future of hope and promise. CANY has helped more than 260,000 people.

I had a lovely time attending with my friend Allie of The Broadway Project (and frequent theater partner-in-crime).


I’m a real believer in the power of the arts to help us grow and heal, and the idea of using drama therapy to overcome trauma is compelling. As we watched Ron Tabano, principal and CEO of John V. Lindsay Wildcat Academyan alternative high school that has been CANY’s partner for 25 years, accept a Lifetime Achievement award, we got to hear him talk about the kind of work his school has been able to do through partnerships with programs like CANY. Ron talked about the fact that every student needs a champion and about the difference support and structure can bring to a student’s life.

Ron Tabano, photo credit Christine Baker

Ron Tabano, with CANY’s program director and drama therapist Meredith Dean. Photo credit Christine Butler.

Over the course of the evening we learned about the people CANY has helped, even hearing from participants themselves, in person, and via cards available at our tables. CANY works with such diverse populations, including veterans, seniors, students from impoverished backgrounds, and people struggling with mental illness or developmental disabilities. Drama therapy can help build confidence and empathy, connecting people with each other in a supportive and safe environment.


Hearing these kinds of stories can be overwhelming, but the CANY gala struck the right balance of inspiring and joyful, appropriately weaving music and humor into the evening. Ann Hampton Callaway was a wonderful opening host, singing a gorgeous of mash-up of “People” from Funny Girl and Sondheim’s “Being Alive” from Company. She later had us all in stitches with an improvised ode to the gentleman who won a “guess how many candies are in this jar” contest, based on his answers to a few questions.

Ann Hampton Callaway serenades Joseph Shugart. Photo credit Christine Baker.

Ann Hampton Callaway serenades Joseph Shugart. Photo credit Christine Butler.

I especially enjoyed hearing Kelli O’Hara speak. Her acceptance of her award was heartfelt and moving as she spoke of having always had the sense of singing for someone, that her gift was meant to be shared and that the power was in the sharing. That idea resonated with me and with CANY’s mission of art with purpose. I don’t know that art has to always bring meaning to someone, but I think the fact that it can and does is so important.

After she accepted the award, Kelli sang “Make Someone Happy”. It was the first time I’d ever seen her perform, and she was stunning.

Kelli O'Hara and Ann Hampton Callaway. Photo credit by Christine Baker.

Kelli O’Hara and Ann Hampton Callaway. Photo credit by Christine Butler.

It was a lovely evening, capped off with delicious desserts and by Ann Hampton Callaway and Cady Huffman singing “Sunny Side of the Street”. The gala raised $200,000 for CANY’s initiatives — sounds like a successful night to me! I look forward to learning more about CANY’s work in the future, and I’m happy to support them (in a small way) by telling you a bit about what they do. Learn more on their website:


Thanks for the invite, CANY!