The PlayMakers Repertory Company recently announced its upcoming productions for the 2023-2024 season in a Youtube video, including well-known shows like “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Much Ado About Nothing.”
Located near Cobb Residence Hall, PlayMakers has provided the campus community with provoking representative and creative performances since 1976. Made up of a resident faculty of experienced actors and Masters of Fine Arts in Acting students, the theater has drastically expanded its impact on the community over the years.
As one of the last resident companies in the country, PlayMakers strives to use these productions not only as entertainment for the community but also education. Vivienne Benesch, the company's producing artistic director, believes the amplification of underrepresented voices throughout the season is important.
“Part of my job is to curate a season that is going to have a little bit of something for a lot of different constituents,” she said. “And what our audiences are going to find entertaining, conversation provoking and relevant.”
The outcome of each season lies in the hands of important figures in the company like Benesch and Associate Artistic Director Jeffrey Meanza, who selects the plays, as well as budgets and casts them. Once the season is selected, he works to support the directors and designers of each title.
“We picked plays with the company in mind,” he said. “We are looking for a diversity of stories in terms of the type of story including comedy, drama, tragedy and also looking at the diversity of playwrights, actors and music.”
As the world continues to change from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, PlayMakers has struggled while planning of the 2023-2024 season.
The pandemic caused financial stress on the company because it was unable to produce shows for its once eager audience. However, PlayMakers enjoyed success returning to the stage this past season with shows like “Native Gardens” and “Hamlet”.
Professional actor and Master of Fine Arts in Acting student at UNC, Sanjana Taskar is a partner with PlayMakers. From this experience, she said she has learned a lot about herself and the projects she is passionate about.
“It's partly dealing with what projects you want to do, and then what projects you feel invigorate the soul because there’s a lot of things that can do both,” she said. “But it’s finding that balance.”
Inspired by the previously standing diverse cast of actors at PlayMakers, Taskar decided to continue her career with the company. She said in particular having a classmate she could relate to stood out to her.
“He was a brown actor, and I am a brown woman, and seeing him in the MFA class — as someone who recently graduated — made me feel really represented and seen,” she said.
Throughout Benesch's work at the company, she has been inspired to expand what PlayMakers should mean to the public. She said in directorial position at a University like UNC, it is important to emphasize the creation of new knowledge, which she portrays through the arts.
“Without education of the heart is not education at all,” Benesch said. “And for me, the theater is the education of the heart.”
In a continuation to push PlayMakers to be a space for everyone, she sees no signs of stopping any time soon. Instead, the company is resetting and improving how it approaches the future.
She encouraged students on campus to take advantage of the company while it is here.
“Know that they have $10 Tickets available, and they're getting to see a sort of world-class regional theater right in their backyard,” Benesch said.
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