Texas Essentials: Dave Steakley, Zach Theatre’s Beloved Artistic Director

by Lisa Davis on June 5, 2019 in Entertainment, Theatre, Austin,
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How do you hang on to the soul of an icon in a city that is booming beyond belief? That’s the daily challenge for Dave Steakley.

A native of Grandview, Texas, Steakley first came to Austin back in 1980, joining ZACH Theatre in 1991. For 28 years, Steakley has been ZACH’s Producing Artistic Director dedicating himself to creating a theater of, by and for Austin. The mission of ZACH is to create intimate theater experiences that will ignite the imagination, inspire the spirit, and engage everyone who calls Austin home. Steakley has been a driving force behind crafting this goal and is fully committed to ensuring that the organization he has poured his considerable energies into fulfills its mission.

Dave Steakley Terence McNally
Dave Steakley (left) with legendary playwright Terence McNally, whose world premiere, “Immortal Longings” opens at ZACH June 12th. Photo courtesy ZACH Theatre

Steakley has long envisioned ZACH being what he calls the “meeting tent” for the community to gather and, with the opening of the Topfer Theatre in 2012,  he brought this dream to fruition. The 427-seat acoustically excellent theater, where every audience member sits in comfort, transformed ZACH giving it the quality of performance space its award-winning productions deserved, and the opportunity to expand Steakley’s creative horizons to a nationally-recognized level.

The 56-year-old attributes the opening night of “Beehive” on New Year’s Eve in 1991, during his first year with ZACH, as the catalyst to his career. The rocking, pack-em-to-the-rafters musical became a huge success over multiple years.

With Austin’s recent population explosion, ZACH has received new funding opportunities and increased audiences. In order to better serve Austin, Steakley began the Family Series programming, pre-professional training, classes and camps, and scholarships at ZACH.  

“The challenge for Austin and ZACH is how to hang onto your soul and what attracted people to you in the first place amidst rapid growth, and to make sure that we are inclusive in our conversations to ensure equity among everyone who calls this city home,” says Steakley.

Costume Bash Dave Steakley
Dave Steakley (right) says,“We believe theater offers an avenue for self-examination, an arena in which we might be challenged to understand a little better not just our own lives, but the world in which
we live.” Photo courtesy ZACH Theatre

Steakley created the first bilingual adaptation of Webber and Rice’s musical “Jesucristo Superstar,” and set “The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans with a jazz/R&B reinvention, which received national acclaim from The New York Times.

In addition to ensuring ZACH runs smoothly, Steakley has also served as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts, the Texas Commission on the Arts, the Texas Medal of the Arts, and the National Alliance for Musical Theatre.

Steakley has received countless awards including the 2015 First Tee of Greater Austin Courtesy Award, the 2013 Human Rights Campaign Austin Visibility Award, the 2010 Kick Ass Award, the 2005 Austin Circle of Theaters’ “Outstanding Contribution to Austin Theatre” Award, seven Austin Chronicle “Best of Austin Best Stage Director” awards, and the 2000 Austin Under 40 Outstanding Arts and Entertainment Award.

The City of Austin even declared May 18, 2001 and October 22, 2011 as “Dave Steakley Day” on the occasion of his 10th and 20th ZACH Anniversaries.

We wanted to know what this successful and talented director never leaves home without – also known as his Texas Essentials.

Dave Steakley Texas Essentials
Dave Steakley’s Texas Essentials. “My workdays begin with staff meetings, and segue to meetings with Trustees, ZACH production meetings, brainstorms with designers and artists, straight into auditions or rehearsals, so I pack sustenance for a day that often spans from 11 am to midnight,” says Dave Steakley. Courtesy photo

Tipton Charles Lip Balm

I’ve been using these for 20 years. I do a lot of public speaking and it is a ritual for me to apply it every time before I have to speak. And I think everyone wants to keep themselves kissable.

Baseball Cap

I’m bald and it keeps me warm when it’s cold, and protects my pate in the summer.

Cold Pack Tote with Diet Peach Snapple

Tote packed with sliced fruit, Tangy Tangerine (a powder energy booster you mix in water), and pre-prepared vegetarian dishes from Whole Foods and Central Market that I can heat in the microwave. Diet Peach Snapple is my go-to for caffeine throughout the day because I don’t drink coffee

Phone + Briefcase

With all the essentials for my day, including my script in a binder for whatever show I’m working on. I am a boy scout and a Mary Poppins fan, so I have multiples of almost everything in my bag at all times, and people tend to borrow from me because they know I will have phone chargers, pens, cables and plugs etc.

Cover: Dave Steakley, Photo courtesy ZACH Theatre

Austinite Lisa Davis is the Editorial Assistant for Texas Lifestyle Magazine and honors graduate from Concordia University Texas with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and Public Relations.