IRT unveils who will succeed Janet Allen at the artistic helm

Janet Allen will leave big shoes to fill when she retires July 1 after more than 25 years as the Indianapolis Repertory Theatre’s artistic director and co-CEO. But the IRT has found the person to fill those shoes – and didn’t have far to look despite what it described as an extensive nationwide search.

Turns out that Benjamin Hanna, the IRT’s current associate artistic director, will fill those shoes in a post officially known as the Margot Lacy Eccles artistic director.

“It was important for IRT to consider the whole field when contemplating its next leader.” Board Chair Mark Shaffer said. “After engaging with a nationally diverse and impressive pool of candidates, Hanna emerged as the best fit due to his talent, passion, and inclusive leadership style. The Board unanimously supports his dynamic vision, and we look forward to supporting Ben through the transition and celebrating Janet’s tremendous tenure at the IRT.”

A director, curator, and avid arts educator, Hanna’s passion for multigenerational theatre and dedication to equity and access fuels his investment in Indianapolis’ community to generate art for – and with – all. As IRT’s associate artistic director for the past five years, his recognizable impact on the organization is unmistakable. Hanna inaugurated IRT’s IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access) initiatives for the Board, staff, and community collaborators, directed many acclaimed productions including Fahrenheit 451, The Book Club Play, and the upcoming thriller Clue, evolved season selection and casting processes, and ensured IRT’s quick pivot to virtual programming during the pandemic, allowing patrons to remain connected and engaged. 

Allen’s take: “Ben’s whole-hearted desire to immerse himself in our shared community, to challenge himself with directing in new genres, to jump into committee and board activities with delight, and to champion the theater’s inclusion and diversity work has made him the perfect candidate to co-lead the next chapter of the IRT’s life with Managing Director Suzanne Sweeney.

“As the theater celebrates its first 50 years,” Allen continued, “I am confidently cheering on this exciting new leadership team and the abundance of talent they will bring to crafting the IRT’s future.”

Hanna will champion new playwrights’ work, expand offerings for student and multigenerational audiences, and develop partnerships alongside newly appointed Director of Inclusion and Community Partnerships Devon Ginn. Hanna will inspire a board, staff, and artistic team that reflects the beloved communities the IRT serves with programming reflective of the diversity and resilience of all Indy residents.

“I am deeply honored to serve as IRT’s next artistic leader,” Hanna said. “In our next chapter, I envision a theatre that is nationally celebrated, revered for producing challenging new works of the highest caliber, and is known as a leader in modeling equity and inclusion. I aspire to break down historic barriers to the Theatre and welcome new audiences by building community-responsive programming. I am committed to using theatre’s transformative power to strengthen our cultural community, build spaces of belonging for historically marginalized voices, and to serve as a vital catalyst for conversation, education, empathy-building, and civic engagement.”

Before the IRT, Hanna’s career spanned the country with tenures at the Tony-Award winning theatres Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis (the nation’s largest theatre for young audiences) and Berkeley Repertory Theatre.  In his native Minnesota, Hanna served on the staff at the Penumbra Theatre Company, the nation’s leading African-American theater, where he expanded education and community engagement programming.

“Ben is a courageous, compassionate, and brilliant leader whose fierce commitment to equity will advance not only the IRT, but the field as well,” said Sarah Bellamy, president of Penumbra Center for Racial Healing. “Ben is one of the most ethical, heart-forward humans I know, and Indianapolis is so fortunate to have him at the helm of one of the city’s precious cultural treasures. This thoughtful choice by the Board makes it clear that they are committed to a bright and bold future for the IRT.”

Hanna is the recipient of many distinguished awards for both arts and leadership, including a Theatre Communications Group Leadership University Award funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Richard O Morris Award for Exemplary Staff Service at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, and the Trailblazer Award from University High School in Carmel. Hanna is also currently a member of the Class of XLVI in the Stanley K. Lacy (SKL) Executive Leadership Series for Leadership Indianapolis.

“Ben’s care for the Indianapolis community and our staff is inspiring, his enthusiasm is infectious, and his passion for theatre that changes lives goes to the very heart of the IRT’s mission,” Suzanne Sweeney said. “I am delighted to welcome Ben as my partner and collaborator as we humbly and enthusiastically embark upon the next fifty years together.”

PHOTO ABOVE: Founded in 1971, the Indiana Repertory Theatre is the largest professional not-for-profit theatER in the state and one of the leading regional theaters in the country.

Benjamin Hanna has been the IRT’s associate artistic director for the past five years.