“Despite our ongoing outreach to the Administration over the past several months, the many demands placed on the President and First Lady during their final year in office have made their participation and the White House reception impossible,” he wrote. Without the prospect of a White House mingle, organizers decided to scrap the gala, which historically is surrounded by a weekend-long series of events, including a reception at the Capitol the night before, the gala-evening performance at the theater, and finally dinner and dancing at the National Portrait Gallery. “We made the difficult decision to forego the gala this year and plan an exciting event for 2017,” the email read.
Asked for comment, a Ford’s spokeswoman sent a statement from the theater’s leadership noting that the move isn’t without precedent — the gala has been canceled four times in the past 30 years. “While we are disappointed we will not be able to celebrate the work of Ford’s Theatre through this annual event, we understand the scheduling challenges inherent during an election year,” the statement reads.
The cancellation of the glittery night will no doubt be a disappointment to the CEO-heavy crowd of donors to the theater made famous as the site of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. It is considered one of the highlights of the Washington social calendar. The opportunity to rub shoulders with the president “was a big hook,” one longtime attendee said.
But former Ford’s Theatre board chairman Wayne Reynolds, who led a $54 million capital campaign for the organization, wondered whether donors wouldn’t be just as happy doing something different and questioned the decision to nix the gala, which raises several million dollars. After all, he said, many patrons have attended previous years’ events — essentially, they’ve all been there, done that, and posed for the brag-wall photo. “The president isn’t the most important thing about the gala,” he said. “Abraham Lincoln is.”
And although the White House scheduling snafu is rare, it’s not a huge surprise to some gala watchers. President Obama and Michelle Obama didn’t attend the events as consistently as their predecessors did. Last year’s White House reception was canceled, too, although it was because of the death of Vice President Biden’s son Beau.