Children’s Festival founder honored with Creative Spirit Award

In the 1980s, former Penn professor Catherine “Kaki” Marshall noticed a campaign in major Canadian cities to provide quality theater festivals for children. Impressed by their efforts, Marshall decided to mimic the campaign in the United States.

“It was such a wake-up call,” Marshall says. “It’s so necessary for a culture to have children exposed to the best in arts.”

In 1985, while serving as assistant director at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Marshall hosted the inaugural Philadelphia International Children’s Festival at Penn, now the oldest and one of the largest children’s festivals in the country.

On Nov. 4, Marshall, a 1945 alumna of the College of Women, was presented with the Penn Creative Spirit Award for creating the Children’s Festival and for her life-long dedication to the arts. Established as part of the University’s efforts to promote arts and culture, the award recognizes alumni who have exemplified a commitment to the arts through outstanding personal achievements.  

“We chose Kaki because of the significant effect she has had on the theater program at Penn and beyond,” says Sheila Raman, director of development for arts and culture in Development and Alumni Relations

Marshall began working at Penn in the mid 1940s as assistant director of Penn Players, the University’s first student theater group, founded in 1936. After taking a few decades off to raise her family, Marshall was asked to return to the Annenberg Center in 1976. She was also invited to teach theater when the major was housed in the Department of English

“What makes her special is that she treated all students as peers, and with a great deal of respect and dignity,” says Harold Wolpert, managing director of the New York’s Roundabout Theater and one of Marshall’s former students.  

“Generations of her students have gone on to prominent roles in theater management,” Raman adds. “It truly is remarkable the impact Kaki made on the New York theater scene in particular with the theater progeny she has mentored.”

Marshall left the Annenberg Center in 1989, but continued to teach and promote theater arts through the 1990s. She is a founding board member of the InterAct Theatre Company and has served on the boards of Philadelphia Young Playwrights and People’s Light & Theatre. In 2001, the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia honored her with a Barrymore Lifetime Achievement Award.

Marshall and her husband, Joe, a Wharton graduate, have six children, three of whom are Penn alumni.

Creative Spirit