PlayMakers Repertory Company names new producing artistic director

Vivienne Benesch (photo by Alison Sheehy)
Vivienne Benesch (photo by Alison Sheehy)

PlayMakers Repertory Company, the professional theater in residence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has appointed Vivienne Benesch as its next producing artistic director, beginning Jan. 1, 2016.

Since 2005, Benesch has served as artistic director of Chautauqua Theatre Company at the renowned Chautauqua Institution in Western New York, working as a director, award-winning actor and teacher there and across the country. During her tenure, she has presided over the company’s transformation into one of the best summer theaters and most competitive training programs in the nation.

“We are excited to welcome Vivienne Benesch as our new producing artistic director. The University community and PlayMakers audiences are already familiar with her outstanding directing talent, and Vivienne’s leadership experience, vision and creativity make her uniquely positioned to take the company to new heights,” said Terry Rhodes, senior associate dean of fine arts and humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences.

As producing artistic director, Benesch will provide artistic vision and guidance for all aspects of the company, oversee programming, direct productions, assemble creative teams and guest artists and raise funds for the organization.

“I am honored, humbled and thrilled to be joining the PlayMakers family and to serve as an artistic leader within this extraordinarily rich and vital community,” said Benesch. “After the galvanizing tenure of Joseph Haj, I feel a profound sense of both possibility and responsibility to build upon — and deepen — the excellence and breadth of artistic achievement, education and community engagement that have become the hallmark of PlayMakers. I can’t think of a more passionate and devoted community of staff, artists, artisans and audience with whom to do just that.”

At PlayMakers, Benesch guest-directed “In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)” (2011), “Red” (2012) and “Love Alone” (2014). In the new year, she will direct the premiere of Libby Appel’s adaptation of “Three Sisters” as part of PlayMakers’ 40th anniversary season (Jan. 20-Feb. 7, 2016).

Joseph Haj, PlayMakers’ previous producing artistic director, now artistic director of the Guthrie Theater, said, “PlayMakers, the search committee and UNC-Chapel Hill have made an inspired choice. Vivienne is a spectacular artist, thinker and leader. She has a powerful commitment to community, relationships with many of the nation’s finest artists and a demonstrated ability to nurture and develop early-career artists. I am so excited for PlayMakers’ future; it couldn’t be in better hands.”

James Houghton, founding artistic director of New York’s Signature Theatre and director of the Drama Division of The Juilliard School, added, “Vivienne Benesch is a passionate, visionary leader and could not be a better choice to helm and inspire this next chapter for the dynamic PlayMakers Repertory Company.”

Playwright Molly Smith Metzler, who has collaborated with Benesch on three productions, said, “Vivienne is a shining star of the American Theater. Every theater, every stage, every rehearsal room she steps foot in becomes one of enthusiasm, generosity and absolute excellence. She is an electric director and electrifying leader. Chapel Hill is in for a huge treat.”

As an actress, Benesch has worked on and off-Broadway, in the West End, in film and television and at many of the country’s most celebrated theaters. She received an OBIE Award for her performance in Lee Blessing’s “Going to St. Ives” and has worked with Gene Wilder, Maggie Smith, Al Pacino and Blythe Danner, among many other esteemed actors, and with directors including Martha Clarke, Michael Mayer, John Rando, Mark Lamos, Lisa Peterson, Emily Mann, Michael Kahn, Maria Mileaf, Ethan McSweeny and Davis McCallum.

Her Broadway credits include “After the Fall,” “Salome,” “Deep Blue Sea” and “The Heiress.” Off-Broadway she has appeared at Lincoln Center, New York Theatre Workshop and NYSF/Public Theater, among others. Regional work includes leading roles at the Guthrie Theater, The Shakespeare Theatre and Westport Country Playhouse to name a few.

Benesch’s educational experience includes eight years as a director and faculty member for the Juilliard School’s Drama Division and work as a guest teacher/director at NYU’s Graduate Acting Program, Brown University/Trinity Repertory Company and UNC’s Professional Actor Training Program.