Playmakers Rep's Vivienne Benesch Receives SDCF's 2017 Zelda Fichandler Award

By: Sep. 20, 2017
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Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation (SDCF) announces that Vivienne Benesch, of Playmakers Repertory Theater (Chapel Hill, NC), is the recipient of the 2017 Zelda Fichandler Award.

The award recognizes directors and choreographers who are in the center of their creative lives, demonstrate great accomplishment to-date and promise for the future, and who have made prominent achievements in the field with singular creativity and artistry, and deep investment in a particular community or region. The award is given annually within rotating regions of the U.S. It carries an unrestricTed Grant of $5,000 to the individual recipient.

A committee selected Ms. Benesch from nominees living and working in the Eastern region of the United States. The Committee also selected two finalists: Curt Columbus, of Trinity Repertory Company (Providence, RI), and Wendy C. Goldberg, of Eugene O'Neill Theater Center (Waterford, CT).

This year's Fichandler selection Committee was chaired by Warner Shook and included Linda Hartzell and Lisa Peterson.

Mr. Shook said, "Vivienne Benesch epitomizes the ideal choice for The Zelda Fichandler Award. She is a mid-career artist working at the peak of her powers, as she has so readily demonstrated in both upstate New York and now in North Carolina with her insightful, thrilling work. The dynamic finalists Wendy C. Goldberg and Curt Columbus complete The Fichandler Class of 2017. I'm very proud to have played a part in choosing this top notch trio. I think Zelda would be beaming."

Benesch said of her selection "I am so deeply honored by this recognition from my peers and SDCF. Zelda was a titan in our industry and I was also lucky enough to call her my teacher and a mentor. Receiving this award in her name is that much more meaningful and a call to continue working in the spirit of her global curiosity, commitment to regional excellence and belief in personal transformation through the arts-all of which have been career-long inspirations to me."

The Fichandler Award will be presented to Ms. Benesch on Monday, October 30th, 2017 in Manhattan. More information on the presentation ceremony to be announced.

As a director, producer, actor and educator Vivienne Benesch has had the great fortune to collaborate with exceptional theater artists of many generations on all sides of the table. She is in her second season as the Producing Artistic Director of PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, North Carolina where she has directed acclaimed productions of Molly Smith Metzler's The May Queen, Deborah Salem Smith's Love Alone, John Logan's RED, Sarah Ruhl's In The Next Room and Libby Appel's adaptation of Three Sisters. From 2005 to 2016 she was the Artistic Director of the renowned Chautauqua Theater Company and Conservatory, presiding over the company's transformation into one of the best summer theatres and most competitive summer training programs in the country. At Chautauqua she directed over twenty productions including the world premiere of Molly Smith Metzler's The May Queen and workshop productions of Zayd Dohrn's The Profane and Sick, Noah Haidle's Birthday Candles, Michael Golamco's Build, Kate Fodor's Rx, Anna Ziegler's An Incident and Jonathan Walker's New Burlington. In 2014, she proudly conceived and directed The Romeo and Juliet Project, featuring over one hundred performers from the Chautauqua dance, opera, theater and music programs alongside the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. Vivienne has also directed at Trinity Rep, Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey and extensively for the Juilliard School Drama Division where she has also served on the faculty.

As an actress, Ms. Benesch has worked extensively on and Off-Broadway, 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 had the honor of working with many of the theatre's foremost directors including Sir Peter Hall, Gene Saks, Mark Lamos, Martha Clarke, Richard Jones, Emily Mann, Michael Mayer, Ethan McSweeny, Maria Mileaf, John Rando, Davis McCallum, Lisa Peterson, Paul Mullins, Brian Mertes and many others.

She holds a BA from Brown University and an MFA from NYU's Graduate Acting Program where she had the great fortune to study under Zelda Fichandler and Ron Van Lieu. She has served as a visiting faculty member at NYU, Juilliard, Trinity-Brown and UNC Chapel Hill's Professional Actor Training Program. For several years Vivienne served as chair of the theater panel for the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts (now YoungArts).

Curt Columbus became Trinity Repertory Company's fifth artistic director in January 2006. He is also the artistic director of the Brown/Trinity MFA programs in Acting and Directing. His directing credits for Trinity include Ragtime, Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage, Middletown, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, The Merchant of Venice, His Girl Friday, Camelot, Cabaret, The Odd Couple, The Secret Rapture, The Receptionist, Memory House, Blithe Spirit, A Christmas Carol, Cherry Orchard and the world premieres of The Completely Fictional, Utterly True, Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allen Poe and Social Creatures. Trinity has been home to the world premieres of three of his plays, Paris by Night, The Dreams of Antigone, and Sparrow Grass. Trinity has also produced his translations of Chekhov's Cherry Orchard and Ivanov, as well as Feydeau's A Flea in Her Ear and Lope De Vega's Like Sheep to Water (Fuente Ovejuna).

Prior to coming to Trinity, Curt lived and worked in the Chicago theater scene for almost twenty years. He was artistic associate of Victory Gardens Theater from 1989-1994, the director of the University of Chicago's University Theater from 1994-2000, and the associate artistic director of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater Company from 2000-2005, where he premiered his translations of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and Cherry Orchard, and Elsa Bernstein's Maria Arndt.

Curt's adaptation of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment (with Marilyn Campbell) has won awards and accolades at theaters around the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. His translation of Chekhov's Three Sisters, developed at the Arden Theatre in Philadelphia, is now published by Dramatists Play Service, as is his play, Sparrow Grass, and his translations of Chekhov's other major plays, Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Cherry Orchard, and Ivanov.

Curt lives in Providence, Rhode Island with his husband, Nate Watson.

Wendy C. Goldberg has spent 20 years leading the foremost programs in the development, direction and the production of new works for the American Theater. As Artistic Director of the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center for 13 seasons, under Goldberg's tenure, the O'Neill was awarded the 2010 Regional Tony Award, the first play development and education organization to receive this honor as well as the 2015 National Medal of Arts from the White House. Wendy's work as Artistic Director is featured in the new book THE O'NEILL: THE TRANSFORMATION OF MODERN AMERICAN THEATER, published by Yale University Press. Goldberg has overseen the development of more than 100 projects for the stage. She is the first woman to lead the conference in its 50 year history. Currently, Wendy leads a new program at The O'Neill for the development of directors (The National Directors Fellowship), a collaboration with the Kennedy Center, SDCF, and the National New Play Network funded by the Doris Duke Foundation. Now in its third year, the program has exceeded all expectations, and has advanced the careers of 10 stage directors. Wendy was awarded an SDC "Standout Theatrical Moment of the Year Award" for the program's commitment to diversity and inclusion.

In addition to leading The O'Neill to national prominence, Wendy maintains a very active directing career. Her directing credits include many world premieres, revivals and musicals at some of the most esteemed theaters across the country and in New York. Credits include: five productions for Arena Stage, five productions for The Denver Center, three productions for Actors Theatre of Louisville, four productions for Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park where she has recently been named an Associate Artist, two productions for The Guthrie, and productions for The Goodman, Signature, Center Stage, Alliance, Playmakers Rep, and Paper Mill Playhouse among others. Wendy is set to direct the Broadway production of Leveling Up with Darren Criss, produced by Tom Viertel and Richard Frankel. She also has active commissions with Seattle Rep to develop a musical featuring Grunge music and set in the Pacific Northwest in the early 90's. Wendy will also direct the first post-Broadway production of Indecent by Paula Vogel at the Guthrie this season.

As Artistic Associate at Arena Stage for five seasons, Ms. Goldberg helped to create the theater's new play initiatives and led them from their inception through 2005. American Theatre Magazine has described her as "one of the most promising theater artists working today." Other than the theater's founder, Zelda Fichandler, she is the youngest director to have directed for Arena Stage in its 50 year history, making her main stage debut at the age of 26 with the revival of K2 in celebration of the company's 50th anniversary. Ms. Goldberg has directed in every major new play development program in the country. She is an honors graduate of the University of Michigan (BA) and holds a MFA in Directing from UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television where she received the distinguished alumni award in 2014.

Wendy has served on the SDC Executive Board for 11 years and has annually served as a guest faculty member at the Iowa Writers Workshop and the Yale School of Drama. She also teaches with The Commercial Theater Institute through the Broadway League and lives in Brooklyn with her partner and her 7-year-old son, Max.

Zelda Fichandler (1924 - 2016) dedicated her early career to the establishment of America's regional theatre movement. In 1950 she founded Washington D.C.'s Arena Stage and in 1968 she produced The Great White Hope, which became the first production to transfer from a regional theatre to Broadway, winning the Tony and the Pulitzer Prize, and launching the careers of James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander. Her production of Inherit the Wind toured Soviet St. Petersburg and Moscow and Arena Stage was the first American theatre company sponsored by the State Department to do so. Like many other regional theatres afterward, Arena Stage cultivated an evolving but resident company over the decades that included some of America's best actors. [more]

Founded in 1965, Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation exists to foster, promote, and develop the creativity and craft of stage directors and choreographers. SDC Foundation's mission is to create access to the field, to connect artists, and to honor the theatrical legacy of these artists. The centrality of the director's/choreographer's role in theatre and the impact that they have on other artists' careers-from playwrights to designers to actors-makes SDC Foundation's services essential to the theatre industry's health and continued vitality. Visit for more.

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