The Shen Family Foundation Musical Theater Composers Initiative
About the Foundation

The Shen Family Foundation, through The Ted & Mary Jo Shen Charitable Gift Fund, concentrates its grant-making in the area of musical theater through its funding support of the works of exceptionally gifted and highly original musical theater composers. Under the Foundation's Musical Theater Composers Initiative, whose mission is to encourage originality, innovation and high artistic aspiration in the musical composition component of musical theater, grants are made to selected not-for-profit organizations to support original commissions, theatrical productions and cast recordings of the works of composers who have the potential to advance the art form. At this juncture, the Foundation's grants are focused almost exclusively on its commissioning programs with Signature Theatre and the Public Theater (see below) and on major New York productions of works by its "core" and its other commissioned composers.


During the past several decades the artistry of the "music" component of musical theater productions has become increasingly marginalized by commercial producers' preoccupation with the entertainment appeal of story lines, casting and production values and preference for musical scores deemed to please to mass audiences through the familiarity of their sound. This has led to a predominance of new scores written in derivative genres of pop, rock and pastiche and, at least in commercial productions, a virtual disappearance of originality and innovation in music-writing. Inspired by the creative genius of Stephen Sondheim - that most extraordinary of exceptions to those tendencies - The Shen Family Foundation directs its Musical Theater Composers Initiative to support the works of musical theater composers who have the talent and commitment to create scores that can challenge the boundaries and sustain the vitality of American musical theater through their ability to astonish by means of their distinctive individualism and boldness of invention.

The Composers

The Foundation's Musical Theater Composers Initiative concentrates its funding support on the works of a select group of exceptionally gifted musical theater composers whose writing is distinguished by originality, innovation and an advanced harmonic sensibility. To date, that group of composers has remained relatively small and consists primarily of Stephen Sondheim and, among the next generation of composers, Michael John LaChiusa, Ricky Ian Gordon, Adam Guettel, Gabriel Kahane, Marisa Michelson, Jeanine Tesori and Joseph Thalken. Since 2002 the Foundation has committed grants to not-for-profit organizations to commission 30 new musicals, primarily through Signature Theatre (Arlington, VA) and the Public Theater (NY); and to provide major funding for more than 60 productions of works by Stephen Sondheim, more than 50 additional productions of works by its commissioned and other contemporary composers, and more than 20 cast recordings.

General Funding Guidelines

The Foundation's grants are subject to the following general funding guidelines:
  • As a private foundation, The Shen Family Foundation can fund only organizations that are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service Code.
  • The Foundation regrets that it cannot make grants directly to individuals for any purpose.
  • Grants are generally restricted to providing funding support to not-for-profit organizations for theatrical productions and cast recordings of the works of qualifying musical theater composers. (Two exceptions to this policy are described in the "Signature Theatre Initiative" and the "Yale Curriculum Initiative" sections of this website.)
  • Grants are generally not made to provide unrestricted funding for theatrical or other organizations, or for special events such as fundraising galas or festivals.
  • The Foundation also regrets that it cannot process or respond to unsolicited grant requests.