Eugene O'Neill Theater Center Names Melia Bensussen Artistic Director of National Playwrights Conference

Bensussen recently served as the Guest Artistic Director for the conference in the summer of 2023.

By: Jan. 25, 2024
Eugene O'Neill Theater Center Names Melia Bensussen Artistic Director of National Playwrights Conference
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Eugene O’Neill Theater Center has revealed that Melia Bensussen will be taking the reins of its flagship program, the National Playwrights Conference. She recently served as the Guest Artistic Director for the conference in the summer of 2023, before being chosen out of a pool of over 180 applicants and nearly a dozen semi-finalists to take on the role full time. 

“I am grateful to Tiffani and to the O’Neill for entrusting me with such an important charge in leading the National Playwrights Conference. We are at a pivotal moment in our industry, and the galvanizing power of NPC will be extraordinarily important in elevating new and emerging writers and to growing the field through their work. This program is deeply essential to the future of the American Theater, and I am honored to steward it through its next iteration,” said Bensussen.

Bensussen is currently the Artistic Director of Hartford Stage, a position she will retain alongside her responsibilities at the O’Neill. She has directed extensively around the country, including productions at the Huntington Theatre, Merrimack Rep, Actors’ Shakespeare Project, La Jolla Playhouse, Baltimore Center Stage, Hartford Stage Company, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the New York Shakespeare Festival, Manhattan Class Company, Primary Stages, the Long Wharf Theatre, Cincinnati Playhouse, Actors Theatre of Louisville (Humana Festival), People’s Light and Theatre Company (where she received a Barrymore nomination for Best Direction), Bay Street, and Playwrights Horizons, among others.

“I am so excited that Melia will be joining us as the next Artistic Director of the National Playwrights Conference. She has demonstrated an unwavering devotion to emerging writers throughout her career, especially to those who are bilingual or of color, and I look forward to working with her as she brings this energy and commitment to exploration with her to the O’Neill,” said Executive Director Tiffani Gavin.

Besides winning the OBIE Award for Outstanding Direction, Melia was twice given Directing Awards by the Princess Grace Foundation, USA, including their top honor, the Statue Award for Sustained Excellence in Directing. She is featured in Women Stage Directors Speak by Rebecca Daniels (McFarland and Co.), and in Nancy Taylor’s Women Direct Shakespeare (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press). Her essay on Merchant of Venice is featured in Jews, Theatre, Performance in an Intercultural Context by Brill Publishing. Raised in Mexico City, Melia is fluent in Spanish and has translated and adapted a variety of texts. Her edition of the Langston Hughes translation of Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding is published by Theatre Communications Group.

Bensussen is a graduate of Brown University and served for over a decade as the Chair of the Performing Arts Department at Emerson College in Boston. She currently serves on the Arts Advisory Council of the Princess Grace Foundation.

Tom Viertel, Chairman of the O’Neill’s Board of Trustees, said, “I couldn’t be more thrilled to have Melia join us as the Artistic Director of the National Playwrights Conference, our foundational program. Her times with us as a director and as the Guest Artistic Director last summer have always been joyous, smart and thoroughly productive. As we and the rest of the theater world come back from the enormous challenges of the last few years, I can’t imagine anyone I’d rather have leading this vital program.”

Since its founding in 1964, the National Playwrights Conference has been the gold standard for new play development, and the Artistic Director post is one of the most coveted in the American Theater. The program came to prominence under the auspices of its inaugural Artistic Director, Lloyd Richards, the renowned theater director and former dean of the Yale School of Drama (now the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale); later continuing under the direction of James Houghton, founder of New York City’s Signature Theatre; and was most recently led by director Wendy C. Goldberg, who stepped down in the fall of 2022 after 18 years in the role. 

The program’s alumni include giants of 20th-century playwriting like August Wilson, John Guare, Edward Albee, David Henry Hwang, Wendy Wasserstein, John Patrick Shanley, as well as some of today’s most influential and groundbreaking theatermakers— among them Samuel D. Hunter, Celine Song, Dominique Morisseau, Hansol Jung, Robert O’Hara, Jeremy O. Harris, and Quiara Alegría Hudes.  

This summer marks the 60th Anniversary of the National Playwrights Conference, and the O’Neill is currently combing through more than 1,500 submissions for the eight plays that will be a part of the 2024 Conference. Bensussen expects to hit the ground running when she joins the selection process in the coming weeks. 

“I can’t wait to dive back into the selection process with the incredible team at the O’Neill, and to see what new voices will emerge as we prepare for the summer. The American Theater is experiencing a period of immense change, and I look forward to seeing where these writers will take us,” she said.