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ZACH Theatre Managing Director Elisbeth Challener To Retire

Summer 2022 will be the completion of Challener’s 15th year at ZACH Theatre as Managing Director.

ZACH Theatre Managing Director Elisbeth Challener To Retire

ZACH Theatre has announced that, after 15 years at ZACH Theatre, Elisbeth Challener will step down as Managing Director to transition into the next phase of her life this fall.

"It's a decision that I've been contemplating but wanted to find an optimum time for the organization and the people I care so much about. While no time is ever easy for change, I believe this coming fall is now that opportunity given ZACH's strong financial position and the creation of ZACH's new Strategic Plan," said Challener. "ZACH is ready to move forward with a strong foundation and future vision --- and that empowers me to move forward with the next phase of my life, too."

Summer 2022 will be the completion of Challener's 15th year at ZACH Theatre as Managing Director. In that time, Challener has been responsible for strategic planning, management, finances, marketing, and fundraising for the organization.

Under Challener's leadership, ZACH successfully designed, built, and opened the Topfer Theatre which has widespread acclaim and has entertained thousands of Central Texas families in a space built with them in mind, completing the largest capital campaign in the theatre's history with a $25M campaign for building and reserves, transforming ZACH's role in both Austin and The National Theatre landscape. Other recent accomplishments include the creation of a multi-year strategic plan that guides the organization to increasing success year over year, an expanded commitment to new work, and oversight of budgets that have grown from $3M annually to nearly $11M while remaining "in the black" for her entire tenure prior to the effects of the pandemic.

"We're not looking to replace Elisbeth - she is irreplaceable - but we are excited to find the next leader who will put their stamp on this 100-year-old Austin institution, as Elisbeth has done. Thanks in large part to her unwavering commitment, a talented family of staff, a strong collaborative Board, and a wide circle of supporters, ZACH is in a robust financial and strategic posture to attract top talent to this position," said ZACH Board President Harriett O'Neill. "Together, we will continue to build ZACH as an even more engaged, diverse, and integral part of the Austin community and beyond."

With the adoption of the 2021-24 Strategic Plan in December and more than $2M in reserve funds alongside new diversity equity and inclusion, digital strategy, and staff compensation initiatives, ZACH is poised for its next visionary. Challener will, in the next 7 months, complete the goals and strategies outlined in the current and second year of the Strategic Plan and work with the finance team to construct a sound budget for the coming fiscal year.

Challener's strong partnership with 30-year Artistic Director Dave Steakley has ensured that ZACH remains both fiscally disciplined, and artistically innovative.

"Elisbeth has completely transformed ZACH," said Steakley. "We would never have realized the dream of the Topfer Theatre without her incredible leadership, strategy and thoughtful cultivation of key stakeholders in the Austin community. She is passionate about theatre, especially musical theatre, and she has championed artistic work and artists to help me produce our best on the ZACH stage. I value her partnership immensely and am so grateful to her for the lasting impact she has created for our beloved city."

Challener is the immediate Past President and a current Board Member of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre in New York City, a non-profit organization dedicated to nurturing musical theatre development and current Executive Committee and Board Member of Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. She has been a panelist for the Houston Arts Alliance, City of Austin, NAMT, 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.

Before moving to Austin, Elisbeth was the 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 concert venue and home to an internationally acclaimed Artists' Residency Program.

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.

Graduating from the Boston Conservatory of Music with a BFA in Drama and Musical Theatre, Challener 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.

ZACH Theatre's Managing Director search committee will commence immediately. The search committee will be comprised of eight trustees and Artistic Director Dave Steakley led by long-term trustee Mindy Ellmer, in partnership with a national recruiting firm.

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