Hartford Stage Announces Melia Bensussen as Next Artistic Director

by Stage Directions
Melia Bensussen is the new Artistic Director for Hartford Stage
Melia Bensussen is the new Artistic Director for Hartford Stage

Hartford Stage announced that OBIE Award-winning director Melia Bensussen has been named the next Artistic Director of the Tony Award-winning theater. She will assume the role in June.

Bensussen will be the sixth artistic director, as well as the first woman, to lead the theater in its 55-year history. She succeeds Darko Tresnjak, who has served as Artistic Director since 2011 and will depart Hartford Stage at the close of the 2018-19 season, Michael Wilson (1998-2011), Mark Lamos (1981-1998), Paul Weidner (1968-1981), and Jacques Cartier (1963-1968).

In addition to her highly-regarded work, Hartford Stage leaders were impressed by Bensussen’s passion for reinterpreting classics and directing new plays, her broad and extensive experience at regional theaters across the country, her well-honed skill set as an artistic administrator in academia, and her commitment to advancing the theater’s community engagement initiatives and education programs.

Bensussen’s appointment as Hartford Stage Artistic Director comes after a competitive, 10-month nationwide search. “Melia is accomplished, talented and well-recognized in the theater world. I am thrilled that she will be joining Hartford Stage, and I have full confidence she will continue to build on the theater’s history of artistic excellence and acclaim,” David R. Jimenez, President of the Board of Directors of Hartford Stage said.

Walter Harrison, President Emeritus of the University of Hartford and a past Hartford Stage board president, chaired the Search Committee. The Search Committee, comprised of 11 Hartford Stage board members, was tasked with identifying an artistic director from a pool of over 85 potential candidates who would continue to embrace Hartford Stage’s mission and act as an artistic and organizational leader throughout the local, state, national and international theater community. Thomas Hall and Christine O’Connor of AlbertHall&Associates LLC assisted with the national search.

Harrison said, “I am thrilled we have been able to attract Melia Bensussen from a very talented and diverse pool of candidates. She brings creativity, energy, intellect, and enthusiasm to everything she does. The Search Committee was unanimous in believing she is the right person to lead Hartford Stage at this point in its history.”

“I am honored and thrilled to be appointed Hartford Stage’s next Artistic Director, and I look forward to following in the footsteps of the distinguished and committed artists who have previously served as Artistic Directors at Hartford Stage,” Bensussen said. “Hartford Stage’s national reputation, its history of bringing world-class artists to Hartford, and its extraordinary commitment to education in this region all make for a thriving institution. I look forward to working with a great staff and board to further develop Hartford Stage’s high profile, as well as to increase community engagement and further expand its importance to the city of Hartford and environs.”

Bensussen received the OBIE Award for her direction of The Turn of the Screw, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from the story by Henry James, at Primary Stages in New York. Her first experience at Hartford Stage was as assistant director to Emily Mann (Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, Broadway; Murder on the Orient Express, McCarter Theatre Center and Hartford Stage) on A Doll House (a new translation by Irene B. Berman of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House) in 1986. She returned to Hartford Stage in 2003 to direct Edwin Sánchez’s Diosa, inspired by the life of legendary movie star Rita Hayworth. In addition to winning an OBIE Award, Bensussen was twice given Directing Awards by the Princess Grace Foundation, including their top honor — the Statue Award for Sustained Excellence in Directing.

Darko Tresnjak, Hartford Stage’s current Artistic Director, said, “I am thrilled that the renowned director Melia Bensussen has thrown her hat in the ring and that our Search Committee, in their infinite wisdom, has chosen her to succeed me as the sixth Artistic Director of Hartford Stage. I hope that Melia will find her time at Hartford Stage as joyous and as fulfilling as I have. I look forward to experiencing the moments and to savoring the memories that Melia will conjure at Hartford Stage.”

“It’s an exciting time at Hartford Stage, building on a record of success. It can evolve even further in its international profile, its community engagement and its educational programming,” said Bensussen. “At a time when the country most needs healthy discourse across ideologies and beliefs, the theater can provide a haven and a forum for a multiplicity of views, beliefs, languages and cultures. I’m excited to work with this region’s diverse population to continue the artistic excellence that has won Hartford Stage its rightful renown, as well as expanding the range of stories on its stage and the faces in its audience.”

About Melia Bensussen
Melia Bensussen is an award-winning director and artistic leader who has directed extensively at leading theaters throughout the country since 1984, including productions at the Huntington Theatre Company, Sleeping Weazel, Shakespeare & Company, Actors' Shakespeare Project, La Jolla Playhouse, Baltimore Center Stage, Hartford Stage, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the New York Shakespeare Festival, Manhattan Class Company, Primary Stages, Long Wharf Theatre, Cincinnati Playhouse, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, People’s Light and Theatre Company, Bay Street Theatre and Playwrights Horizons, among others.

Raised in Mexico City, Bensussen is fluent in Spanish and has translated and adapted a variety of texts, including her edition of the Langston Hughes translation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding. She is currently working on commissions and productions at the Huntington Theatre Company and ArtsEmerson in Boston.

Her acclaimed work with new plays has taken her to the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, New York Stage and Film, PlayPenn, The Playwrights' Center, Sundance, and other new play programs across the United States. Ongoing collaborations with playwrights include such distinguished writers as Kirsten Greenidge, Melinda Lopez, Jeffrey Hatcher, Masha Obolensky, Charlotte Meehan, and Kate Snodgrass. She has been lucky to have the opportunity to collaborate with a range of American playwrights, including Annie Baker, Mat Smart, Edwin Sanchez, Nick Gandiello, Eduardo Machado, Jose Rivera, Lee Blessing, Richard Dresser, and Willy Holtzman.

A graduate of Brown University, Bensussen currently serves as the Chair of the Arts Advisory Board for the Princess Grace Foundation and for the past eleven years has chaired the Performing Arts Department at Emerson College. She also serves on the executive board of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC).

About Hartford Stage
Now in its 55th season, Hartford Stage's mission is to enlighten, entertain, and educate by creating theatrical works of the highest caliber that have a transformative impact on audiences, the community, and its field. Led by Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak, in his final season, and Managing Director Michael Stotts, Hartford Stage is renowned for producing innovative revivals of classics and provocative new plays and musicals - including over 70 world and American premieres - as well as offering a distinguished education program. Since Tresnjak's appointment in 2011, Hartford Stage has presented the world premieres of the new musical Anastasia by Terrence McNally, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens - currently on Broadway; Rear Window with Kevin Bacon; Reverberation by Matthew Lopez; Big Dance Theatre's Man in a Case with Mikhail Baryshnikov; Breath & Imagination by Daniel Beaty; A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder on Broadway, winner of four 2014 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Direction of a Musical by Tresnjak; and Quiara Alegria Hudes' Water by the Spoonful, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Hartford Stage has earned many of the nation's most prestigious awards, including the 1989 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. Other national honors include Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk, OBIE, and New York Critics Circle awards. Hartford Stage has produced nationally renowned titles, including the New York transfers of Enchanted April; The Orphans' Home Cycle; Resurrection (later retitled Through the Night); The Carpetbagger's Children; and Tea at Five.

The education department at Hartford Stage serves more than 21,000 students and adults each year. Our programs include student matinees, in-school theater residencies, teen performance opportunities, theater classes for students (ages 3-18) and adults, after-school programs and professional development courses. The education department is committed to serving students of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds; nurturing the next generation of artists and theater professionals; developing a new audience of theater-goers; and being a leader in providing in-school, theater-based programs that promote creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking.

Further information from Hartford Stage: www.hartfordstage.org