ZACH Theatre Leadership
Producing Artistic Director Dave Steakley
DAVE STEAKLEY (Producing Artistic Director) – Now in his 26th season, Dave is dedicated to creating a theatre of, by, and for Austin – a place where our entire community gathers to share an intimate and extraordinary theatre experience. Led by Dave’s vision, the creation of the Topfer Theatre came to fruition, opening in October 2012 with the acclaimed musical Ragtime. Anna Deavere Smith says, “Dave is the future. The YES in his theater’s walls is as palpable as the walls themselves. That YES, I believe, will lead to something brand new, to connect with a broader, more global audience.”
With Dave as artistic leader, ZACH has produced multiple World Premieres by Anna Deavere Smith, Steven Dietz, Jaston Williams, Everett Quinton, John Walch, Allen Robertson and The Flaming Idiots. ZACH served as the Central Texas hub of the nationwide 365 Plays/365 Days Festival by Suzan-Lori Parks. Dave created the first bilingual adaptation of Webber and Rice’s musical Jesucristo Superstar, and set The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans with a jazz/R&B reinvention, which received national acclaim from The New York Times and about which Todd Gershwin says, “It was Dave’s creative production of Porgy and Bess that really opened my eyes to the need to finally allow a creative team to interpret the opera in a fresh manner, which led to the recent Broadway production.”
Dave has directed many ZACH productions, and some favorite experiences include: Mary Poppins, Mothers and Sons, All the Way, A Christmas Carol: A Rockin’ New Musical, The Who’s Tommy; The Gospel at Colonus; Harvey; 33 Variations; Ragtime; Next to Normal; Hairspray; August: Osage County; Rent; Metamorphoses; Our Town; Caroline, or Change; The Clean House; Take Me Out; I Am My Own Wife; Urinetown; Crowns; Omnium-Gatherum; Hedwig; Jelly’s Last Jam; The America Play; Dreamgirls; Angels In America and the first professional repertory production of The Laramie Project, and The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.
His regional directing credits include Actors Theatre of Louisville, New Stage Theatre, American Heartland Theatre, WaterTower Theatre, and Pittsburgh’s City Theatre. He is the playwright of ZACH’s A Christmas Carol, Rockin’ Christmas Party, and Keepin’ It Weird, featured on CBS Sunday Morning, NPR,The Wall Street Journal, and American Theatre. Dave serves as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts, the Texas Commission on the Arts, and the National Alliance for Musical Theatre.
City of Austin Mayors Kirk Watson and Lee Leffingwell declared, respectively, May 18, 2001 and October 22, 2011 as “Dave Steakley Day” on the occasion of his 10th and 20th ZACH Anniversaries. He is the recipient of the 2015 First Tee of Greater Austin Courtesy Award, the 2013 Human Rights Campaign Austin Visibility Award, 2010 Kick Ass Award, 2005 Austin Circle of Theaters’ “Outstanding Contribution to Austin Theatre” Award, seven Austin Chronicle “Best of Austin Best Stage Director” awards, the 2000 Austin Under 40 Outstanding Arts & Entertainment Award, and multiple Austin Critics’ Table and B. Iden Payne Awards for “Outstanding Director/Choreographer.” In 2009, he was crowned Austin Dancing with the Stars Champion, and he has a cameo in Richard Linklater’s 2012 film Bernie with Jack Black.
Managing Director Elisbeth Challener
Elisbeth Challener (Managing Director) joined ZACH Theatre as Managing Director in June of 2007, with responsibility for strategic planning, management, finances, marketing, and fundraising for the organization. Under Elisbeth’s leadership, ZACH successfully designed, built and opened the new Topfer Theatre, which has won significant awards and wide-spread acclaim completing the largest capital campaign in ZACH’s history. In August ZACH celebrated the successful conclusion of the $23.5M campaign! Other accomplishments during her seven years at ZACH include creating a new multi-year strategic plan that will move the organization into the next phase of its significant expansion, increasing revenue from single ticket sales by 79 percent and increasing revenue from season ticket sales by 139 percent. At a time when many arts organizations in Austin and around the nation have been struggling, ZACH has grown its operating budget from $3 million to $8 million dollars and has operated “in the black” throughout Elisbeth’s tenure.
Elisbeth has led her team in developing innovative new offerings on ZACH’s expanded campus including full-service bars and nightly pre-show entertainment; an exclusive skyline lounge in the Topfer Theatre for donors; and making the theatre available as a red-carpet venue for SXSW, The Daily Show, as well as other major community events. This past Spring, ZACH proudly launched The Dave Steakley Dream Fund designed to enhance the artistic vision of ZACH’s Producing Artistic Director and to maintain production quality and the facility needs of ZACH’s Topfer Theatre and campus.
Before moving to Austin, Elisbeth was Executive Director of Montalvo Arts Center in the San Francisco Bay Area. She led Montalvo’s growth from a small, community-based organization into a major presenting venue and home to an internationally acclaimed artists’ residency program. During nearly two decades at Montalvo, her other accomplishments included increasing ticket sales from less than $500,000 to more than $4 million, expanding the patron base from 6,000 to 80,000 and raising more than $20 million for capital projects.
Earlier in her career, Elisbeth served as Administrative Director for the San Francisco Boys Chorus, Education/Outreach Director of the Fairmount Theatre of the Deaf and as department chair and faculty member of the performing arts department of The Purnell School in New Jersey.
Elisbeth graduated from the Boston Conservatory of Music with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts in Drama and Musical Theatre. She attended the Harvard Business School Executive Education Program, The Center for Excellence in Nonprofit Management Leaders Institute in San Jose, California and served in leadership roles for the American Leadership Forum Silicon Valley, Saratoga Rotary Club and the Arts Council of Silicon Valley.
Elisbeth currently serves on the Board of Directors and is Development Committee Chair of the National Alliance of Musical Theatre in New York, and has served on NAMT’s Festival of New Musicals Committee and Executive Committee. She has been a panelist for The Houston Arts Alliance, City of Austin, National Alliance of Musical Theatre, and Theatre Communications Group. Elisbeth has always had a passion for the theatre and performed for many years in summer stock, dinner theatre and semi-professional productions on the East Coast and in California.
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