Austin Playhouse Names Ben Wolfe and Sarah Fleming Walker as Associate Artistic Director, Sarah Chong Harmer for Education & Community Engagement
Austin Playhouse announces leadership team expansion with the addition of Ben Wolfe and Sarah Fleming Walker as Associate Artistic Directors alongside current Co-Producing Artistic Directors Lara Toner Haddock and Founder Don Toner. As members of the Austin Playhouse Acting Company, Wolfe and Walker both recently served on the planning committee to develop Austin Playhouse’s five-year strategic plan in collaboration with the DeVos Institute of Arts Management.
Sarah Chong Harmer will become Education and Community Engagement Programs Manager after joining the Austin Playhouse team as Production Coordinator and Safety Manager in 2021. Sarah’s promotion will enable Austin Playhouse to return to this programming for 2022 after a lapse due to covid shutdown.
“Austin Playhouse has always been a company that centers artists. Our Acting Company members serve on our Board of Directors, they have a voice in the artistic direction of the company, and as Austin Playhouse grows the leadership opportunities for company members will too. The appointment of Ben and Sarah to leadership positions reflects that commitment,” said Co-Producing Artistic Director Lara Toner Haddock. “In many ways, this is a very natural evolution for the company. Sarah stepped up during the pandemic and created and directed our virtual Postcards from Austin series: highlighting artistic voices from around Austin. Ben directed our return to live theatre this December and starred as Hercule Poirot in our full-length virtual production of The Mysterious Affair at Styles. As artists they’ve demonstrated the creativity and adaptability that are necessary in this moment, and now as leaders, they’ll bring that talent to overseeing all of our programming.”
In addition to assisting with season planning, the new Associate Artistic Directors will each focus on areas of development identified during Austin Playhouse’s strategic planning process. Fleming Walker will focus on highlighting the work of the professional acting company while Wolfe will lead new play development as well as diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
On this new role, Ben Wolfe said, “Austin Playhouse has been instrumental in my personal and artistic growth over the years. I couldn’t be more excited to utilize the knowledge gained from our past to shape our future growth - as individuals, as an organization, and as part of our community. I’m especially excited about helping to plan our annual seasons and to get in on the ground floor of our new play development series, getting the chance to elevate voices that may not feel heard yet and to tell new stories in exciting ways."
“Throughout my life I’ve found the most important values I work from to be connection and authenticity,” added Sarah Fleming Walker. “I couldn’t be happier or more excited to be in a position that involves listening, collaborating, and growing while creating work that brings folks together with meaningful art so we can all continue to face the world we live in and find the moments of connection we all need to sustain us.”
Founded in 2000 by veteran arts leader Don Toner, who previously worked at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Los Angeles Theatre Center, Bucks County Playhouse, and Austin's State Theatre Company, Austin Playhouse’s year-round programming now includes a new play development program, theatre for youth, and a subscription season highlighting contemporary plays and regional premieres.
Austin Playhouse is committed to being a career-long home for professional theatre-makers in Austin. After 9 years in residency at Austin Community College (ACC) Highland, Austin Playhouse departed in Fall of 2021 upon the completed construction of the ACC Drama Department’s new space.
2021 was also the public launch of Austin Playhouse’s Capital Campaign for their permanent home. Announcements forthcoming to include information on campaign goals, naming opportunities and all the ways one can be involved in helping to build this new venue that will house Austin Playhouse and serve Austin’s creative community.
Austin Playhouse will announce upcoming live productions later this month. Austin Playhouse is supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department and Texas Commission on the Arts and funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies and The Shubert Foundation.
About Ben Wolfe
Ben has been a member of the Austin Playhouse Acting Company for two decades. He directed Austin Playhouse productions of Stealing Baby Jesus, Three Viewings, Heroes (AD) and The 39 Steps (AD). He recently directed Twelfth Night for St Edward’s University. Select Austin Playhouse acting credits includeShakespeare in Love, Baskerville, The Explorers Club, Disgraced (Critics’ Table Award), The Norwegians,The Liar, Man of La Mancha, The Turn of the Screw,and Speed the Plow. Ben has received B. Iden Payne Awards for performances in Am I White, The Pain and The Itch, The Dog in the Manger (BIP and Critics’ Table Award), Romeo and Juliet, and Featuring Loretta. Ben has several regional (UFCU Invest in Yourself) and national (Wizard 101, DC Universe Online, Edgenuity online education services) voiceover credits to his name. Ben is a member of Actors’ Equity Association and a graduate of St. Edward’s University with a BA in Drama.
About Sarah Fleming Walker
Sarah has appeared in the Austin Playhouse productions of The Battlefields of Clara Barton, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Guys and Dolls, and A Little Night Music. She created and directed the Austin Playhouse pandemic-era online series Postcards from Austin. Other recent credits include the TexArts productions of Sweeney Todd and Wait Until Dark, LOLA (Local Opera Local Artists) production of La Femme Boheme, and Zilker Theatre Productions’ Footloose and The Music Man. She has performed roles and been a soloist with Austin Lyric Opera in The Marriage of Figaro and the World Premiere of Waiting for the Barbarians.
Sarah is also a cantor/soloist and proud member of the St. James Episcopal Church Choir. She has also developed arts education programs including preschool, family music, and creative drama after school programs. She holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from the University of Arizona.
About Sarah Chong Harmer
Sarah graduated Midwestern State University with a B.F.A. in Theatre with an emphasis in K-12 Theatre Education. She worked as a high school and middle school theatre teacher before moving to Austin in 2018. As an educator, Sarah cultivated opportunities for her students to see professional theatre (in many cases, for the first time) as well as participate in meet and greets with professional actors and theatre-makers. Her first project with Austin Playhouse was in the role of Summer in the 2019 Theatre for Youth production Summer and Bird. She later portrayed Cynthia Murdoch in The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Austin Playhouse). A Hyde Park Theatre Company and Board Member, Sarah has been seen as The Daughter in Death Tax and Emmy in A Doll's House, Part 2. She has also appeared as Girl in Salvage Vanguard Theater’s production of Tryouts and as a Guest Artist in the role of Miji Park in the UT New Theatre production of OCD (B. Iden Payne Nomination).
About Austin Playhouse:
Austin Playhouse is dedicated to providing opportunities for Austin artists and audiences to celebrate the human experience. Austin Playhouse will nourish your mind, delight your spirit, and enrich your life through professional productions of classic, contemporary, and musical plays. For more information visitaustinplayhouse.com.
Austin Playhouse is a professional theatre in its 22nd season. Under the leadership of Co-Producing Artistic Directors Don Toner and Lara Toner Haddock, Austin Playhouse has grown from a three-play season on the campus of Concordia University, to a year-round operation producing an average of six mainstage plays, theatre for youth productions, and a new play festival. Austin Playhouse plans to build a permanent home for the veteran theatre troupe and all of Austin’s artistic community.