ZACH Theatre Leadership
Producing Artistic Director Dave Steakley
DAVE STEAKLEY (Producing Artistic Director) – Now in his 22nd 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, 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 bi-lingual 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 served as the Producer, Director and Choreographer of more than 275 ZACH Productions, including: 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: 10 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 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 2013 Human Rights Campaign Austin Visibility Award, 2010 Kick Ass Award, 2005 Austin Circle of Theaters’ “Outstanding Contribution to Austin Theatre” Award, six Austin Chronicle “Best of Austin Best Stage Director” awards and the 2000 Austin Under 40 “Outstanding Arts & Entertainment Award.” In 2009, he was crowned Austin Dancing with the Stars Champion, and he has a cameo in Richard Linklater’s 2012 film Bernie, in which he and Robin Lewis staged The Music Man musical numbers featuring Jack Black, Jill Blackwood and several ZACH actors.
Managing Director Elisbeth Challener
ELISBETH CHALLENER (Managing Director) joined ZACH Theatre as Managing Director in 2007, with responsibility for strategic planning, management, finances and fundraising for the organization. Under Elisbeth’s leadership, ZACH successfully designed, built and opened the new $23M Topfer Theatre, which has won significant awards and wide-spread acclaim — all while bringing the theatre to within 800,000 dollars of completing the largest capital campaign in ZACH’s history. Other accomplishments during her six years at ZACH include creating a 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 $7 million dollars and has operated “in the black” throughout Elisbeth’s tenure.
Currently, Elisbeth is leading her team in developing innovative new offerings at ZACH’s newly-expanded campus: new full-service bars and a donor lounge in the Topfer Theatre, making the theatre available as a red-carpet venue for SXSW in 2013 as well as other community events and the new series TOP Concerts at ZACH, featuring major national artists such as Megan Hilty, Anthony Rapp and Sandra Bernhard.
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 serves on the Board and Executive Committee of the National Alliance of Musical Theatre, and has served on NAMT’s Festival of New Musicals Committee. She 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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