It’s been an historic couple of weeks here at PlayMakers! Amid the bustle of opening our first Mainstage show of the season, came three incredible announcements that have us bursting with excitement.
On Wednesday, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation announced Vivienne Benesch, Producing Artistic Director of PlayMakers Repertory Company, as the recipient of the 2017 Zelda Fichandler Award. This prestigious award recognizes outstanding creativity and artistry by directors and choreographers for their accomplishments to date, and their promise for the future. Named for a champion and pioneer of regional theatre, the Zelda Fichandler Award is given to artists whose work is transforming the regional arts landscape.
“I am so deeply honored by this recognition from my peers and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation,” said Benesch. “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.
“As a director, producer, actor and educator, I have been so blessed with the great fortune to collaborate with exceptional theatre artists of many generations, and I am excited to be drawing an even wider circle with artists and audiences throughout North Carolina and this fertile, vibrant region of the country.”
PlayMakers is the first regional theatre to have two consecutive Producing Artistic Directors receive the Zelda Fichandler Award. Joseph Haj also received the award in 2014.
Also yesterday, the International Center for Women Playwrights announced the 2017 recipients of its yearly international award for gender equity: the 50/50 Applause Award. PlayMakers was included among the recipients for featuring women playwrights in at least 50% of the 2016–2017 season.
In 2016–2017, PlayMakers six-show Mainstage season featured three plays by women:
- Detroit ‘67 by Dominique Morriseau
- The May Queen by Molly Smith Metzler (originally commissioned by Vivienne Benesch for Chautauqua Theater Company)
- Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage
“There are so many dynamic and important women’s voices to be celebrated and contended with today that it is not only a responsibility, but also a privilege to strive for gender parity in the writers we produce at PlayMakers,” said Vivienne Benesch, PlayMakers producing artistic director. “And as one of the too few female Artistic Directors currently at the helm of a major regional theatre, I am doubly committed to creating an artistic home for women in all areas.”
The PlayMakers 2017–2018 MainStage season also feature three plays by female playwrights, as well as three women at the helm as director.
Last Monday, the University of North Carolina announced the largest single donation for the performing arts in UNC’s history: a $12 million endowment to PlayMakers Repertory Company and the University’s Department of Dramatic Art. The building that both PlayMakers and the Department call home has now been renamed in her honor and the newly christened Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art played host to both the announcement and the reception that followed.
“It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing to have this incredible blessing,” said Vivienne Benesch, producing artistic director of PlayMakers. “Does it fix all our problems? It does not. But it allows us to start planning growth for the next 40 years.”
The money will be paid in three installments, starting with $4 million this academic year. Another $4 million will come in five years, with the last third eventually due as a planned gift from Ms. Gillings’ estate.
Many of PlayMakers’ outreach efforts—including K-12 education programs and Mobile Shakespeare—rely heavily on year-to-year, grants-based funding. The reliable funding established by Ms. Gillings’ generous gift will allow PlayMakers to increase community outreach and diversity by building sustainable education programs, such as a teaching-artist program that’s not limited to Shakespeare projects, but can extend to new works as well.
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