Elisbeth Challener

After 15 years at Zach Theatre’s managing director Elisbeth Challener plans to retire this fall, representatives announced today.

“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. 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,” said Challener, in a press release. “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.”

Dave Steakley, Zach artistic director for 30 years, remains with the company.

“Elisbeth has completely transformed Zach,” said Steakley. “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.

Under Challener’s leadership, Zach opened its Topfer Theatre in 2015 and grew the organization’s budget from $3 million to nearly $11 million.


Challener is the immediate Past President and a current Board Member of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre in New York City, a non-profit 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. Before moving to Austin, Elisbeth was the Executive Director of Montalvo Arts Center in the San Francisco Bay Area.