ADV – Leaderboard

ZACH Theatre Managing Director Elisbeth Challener to Retire

Her 15 years in the role spanned the building of a new space and a $25-million campaign.

Elisbeth Challener.

AUSTIN: After 15 years at ZACH Theatre, Elisbeth Challener will step down at the end of August from her role as managing director.

“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,” Challener said in a statement. “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. 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.”

In her 15 years at ZACH, 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 entertained thousands of Central Texas families in a space built with them in mind, and completed the largest capital campaign in the theatre’s history with a $25-million campaign for building and reserves. Other recent accomplishments include the creation of a multi-year strategic plan, an expanded commitment to new work, and oversight of budgets that have grown from $3 million annually to nearly $11 million while remaining in the black for her entire tenure prior to the effects of the pandemic. 

In a statement, ZACH board president Harriett O’Neill said, “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. Together, we will continue to build ZACH as an even more engaged, diverse, and integral part of the Austin community and beyond.”

“Elisbeth has completely transformed ZACH,” said artistic director Dave Steakley in a statement. “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 nonprofit 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. She performed for many years in summer stock, dinner theatre, and semi-professional productions on the East Coast and in California.

Before moving to Austin, Challener 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.

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

Founded in 1932, ZACH is the longest continuously running theatre company in the state of Texas, and one of the 10 oldest in the country.

Support American Theatre: a just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. Please join us in this mission by making a donation to our publisher, Theatre Communications Group. When you support American Theatre magazine and TCG, you support a long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click here to make your fully tax-deductible donation today!

ADV – Billboard