DAVE STEAKLEY (Producing Artistic Director) is now in his 29th season, and is dedicated to creating a theatre of, by and for Austin. Led by Dave’s vision, the creation of the Topfer Theatre came to fruition, opening in October 2012 with the acclaimed musical Ragtime. Dave is committed to a dialogue that is inclusive, because other voices and other perspectives enrich our lives, and help us to become more empathic and thoughtful people. He relishes the opportunity to engage our Central Texas region in a lively, meaningful dialogue to cultivate a greater sense of community for everyone who calls Austin home. Dave envisions ZACH as the meeting tent where our community gathers because it has investment, ownership, and representation in our creative work.
With Dave as artistic leader, ZACH has produced multiple World Premieres by Terrence McNally, 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.
Dave has directed many ZACH productions, and some favorite experiences include: The Ballad of Klook and Vinette; Notes From The Field; Sunday in the Park with George; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; The Great Society; All the Way; Disney’s Mary Poppins; Tribes; Mothers and Sons; The Who’s Tommy; The Gospel at Colonus; Next to Normal; August: Osage County; Rent; Metamorphoses; Caroline, or Change; The Clean House; Take Me Out; Crowns; Omnium-Gatherum; 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, Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, 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 has served as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts, the Texas Commission on the Arts, Texas Medal of the Arts, and the National Alliance for Musical Theatre.
The City of Austin Mayor declared, 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, eight Austin Chronicle “Best of Austin Best Stage Director” awards, the 2000 Austin Under 40 Outstanding Arts and Entertainment Award. In 2009, he was crowned Austin Dancing with the Stars Champion, and he has a cameo in Richard Linklater’s film Bernie.
Elisbeth Challener (Managing Director) just completed her 12th year at ZACH Theatre as Managing Director, with responsibility for strategic planning, management, finances, marketing, and fundraising for the organization. Under Elisbeth’s leadership, ZACH successfully designed, built, and opened the Topfer Theatre, which has won significant awards and widespread acclaim, completing the largest capital campaign in the theatre’s history and transforming ZACH’s role in both Austin and the national theatre landscape. Other accomplishments during her dozen years at ZACH include the creation of a multi-year strategic plan that is moving the organization into the next phase of its commitment to new work, increasing revenue from ticket sales by 165%, and growing annual contributed revenue by 199%. 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 more than $10 million dollars and has operated “in the black” throughout Elisbeth’s tenure!
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. She has been honored by San Jose Magazine, the Austin Business Journal, and the State of California for her work in the arts.
Elisbeth is the current President of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre in New York City, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to nurturing the development, production, and presentation of new and classic musicals. She has been a panelist for The Houston Arts Alliance, City of Austin, National Alliance for Musical Theatre, National Fund for New Musicals, and Theatre Communications Group. Elisbeth has always had a passion for theatre and performed for many years in summer stock, dinner theatre, and semi-professional productions on the East Coast and in California.