According to Ray Dooley, head of the professional actor training program and member of the search committee for the new artistic director, Benesch’s appointment marks the end of a monthslong national search. Benesch was one of 15 applicants and five finalists.
McKay Coble, dramatic art professor and head of the search committee, agreed the process was extensive and difficult.
“It was especially gratifying that artists who have worked with us on individual productions wanted to return to what several of them called ‘home,’” she said.
Dooley has worked on several projects with Benesch, including her 2009 production of “Arcadia,” which was featured at Chautauqua Theater Company, where Benesch previously served as artistic director for 12 seasons.
“She is — and is known in the profession to be — an extraordinarily gifted director and leader,” he said. “Her wide experience and informed perspective elicit respect and loyalty from those who are fortunate enough to work with her.”
Benesch is no stranger to PlayMakers. In the past four years, Benesch directed three plays there. Starting Jan. 20, she will direct “Three Sisters.” Benesch said her positive experiences directing at PlayMakers encouraged her to apply.
“Every level, from the creative team, to the production team at PlayMakers, the MFA actors, the support from the faculty and the excellence of the work was very inspiring to me,” she said.
Benesch is also grateful for her longtime friendship with former artistic director, Joseph Haj, who left the position in July to become the artistic director of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. When Haj left his position, he encouraged Benesch to apply.
Benesch said she has several goals she hopes to accomplish: to engage more with the University, regional and national communities; to make PlayMakers a home for the best new, established and veteran voices; and to schedule interdisciplinary seasons.
Benesch said she also plans to continue directing and producing. Yet, she said the most valuable part of her position comes education and mentoring.
“At my core, education has been at the core of what I do since I started coaching people when I was in college,” she said.
“So, on the sort-of faculty-education-mentor side, that is something I hope will also be a mark of my leadership — to be a great mentor to the many, many students coming through this program.”