Meet our new leadership team: Artistic Director Melia Bensussen and Managing Director Cynthia Rider
By Theresa M. MacNaughton, Communications Associate
Sometimes being the new kids on the block can be a stress-filled time, but newly-appointed leaders Artistic Director Melia Bensussen and Managing Director Cynthia Rider are taking it all in stride.
Bensussen and Rider, who assumed their roles in July, are energized and ready to lead Hartford Stage on a new, exciting path. The theatre opened its doors to the community last month for a season kick-off celebration featuring live music and performances, food and drink, and backstage tours. The festivities gave Bensussen and Rider an opportunity to greet and connect with colleagues and volunteers, artistic collaborators and local arts leaders, subscribers and donors, and – most importantly – Hartford residents.
During her welcoming remarks at the season kick-off event, Rider reflected upon the tradition of welcoming both the friend and the stranger into one’s home. In a time of uncertainty for many in the community, Rider expressed Hartford Stage’s commitment to being an inclusive, welcoming home for everyone.
“The extra care and sensitivity that is required as we aspire to be a place where our artists can do their very best work, where audience members can enjoy and be inspired and be challenged by the work onstage – all of you here today says to me that you’re really anxious to be welcoming to the friend, to the stranger in your house. We want to do the same for you,” she said.
As part of Bensussen’s vision for deepening engagement and creating new opportunities for dialogue, she has met with local leaders and arts advocates throughout the summer to explore ways in which Hartford Stage can best serve the community and its thriving arts landscape.
“I am honored to be the new Artistic Director of Hartford Stage and to work with you to keep this theatre a vibrant part of the Hartford community,” she said. “Together, we can make Hartford Stage a place where we celebrate the diverse communities of Hartford while enjoying the range of stories being told on our stage.”
Bensussen and Rider are looking forward to collaboratively leading Hartford Stage and continuing to produce art onstage in keeping with the theatre’s mission to enlighten, entertain and educate audiences. Rider, who previously served as the executive director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is “thrilled to work in partnership with Melia, the staff, and board members who care deeply about the theatre and their community.”
Bensussen is equally delighted to be partnering with Rider. “I know we will be a tremendous team; and we will work together to continue to uphold the theatre’s artistic excellence, while growing the theatre’s connection to our many communities,” she said.
Bensussen, an OBIE Award-winning director whose work has been produced across the country, will be directing the final show of Hartford Stage’s 2019/2020 season: Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness!
“When you get to work with an extraordinary colleague, it’s really a special time. I knew that when Melia picked Ah, Wilderness! as the first show that she would direct at Hartford Stage, I knew I had the right partner,” Rider said. “The beauty and the sensitivity and intelligence that she brings as a director to her work as an artist is something that I think all of us are going to be the grateful recipients of over many years.”
Bensussen hopes that Ah, Wilderness! – O’Neill’s joyous homage to American life and family – will resonate deeply with Hartford audiences and reflect the future artistic vision for the theatre.
“We’ll be doing it with a multicultural cast with live music onstage and new arrangements for period songs. Let’s think about how we connect this to Hartford in 1906,” Bensussen said. “We’ll really want to explore what communities were like and how many different peoples were here in Hartford in 1906 that we don’t know about. I look forward to the community’s help in telling those stories.”