You are here

Leslie Swackhamer

Stage Director, Producer, Executive Director of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize
MFA, Directing
Class of 1990
Leslie Swackhamer headshot

Contact Information


MFA, Directing, University of Washington, 1990
JD, George Washington University
BA, History, Emory University

Leslie Swackhamer is an award-winning stage director of opera and theatre, noted for creating bravura acting ensembles and stunning visuals.

A passionate advocate of new work and work by women, she is the Executive Director of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the oldest and largest international prize specifically recognizing women playwrights. She is also a founder of the Women Playwright's Festival in Seattle at A Contemporary Theatre and Hedgebrook. She has workshopped, directed, dramaturged or produced over 100 new works at theatre and opera companies across America.

Currently based in Houston, she most recently directed Young Jean Lee's STRAIGHT WHITE MEN for Stages Repertory Theatre, where she has directed nine hit productions. One of which included the extended and sold-out run of David Adjmi's MARIE ANTOINETTE (2015 Houston Press Award for Best Director). Other theatres where she has directed include Southcoast Rep, Madison Rep, Seattle Rep, The Empty Space, Florida Studio Theatre, Seattle Shakespeare, Stages Repertory Theatre, The Cherry Lane, ACT Theatre, The Cleveland Play House, American Stage, Cleveland Public, Intiman Theatre, Brave New Works (Atlanta), Musiqa, and The Playwrights Center.

Opera companies where she has directed include the San Francisco Opera, Vancouver Opera, Opera Carolina, Seattle Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Opera Omaha, Madison Opera, Dayton Opera, and Opera in the Heights.  In 2017, she will add the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center to this list.  She collaborated with composer Jack Perla and playwright Eugenie Chan on the development of the new opera, COURTSIDE, as part of Houston Grand Opera's East+West Project.  She is currently working with composer Sheila Silver, librettist Stephen Kitsakis and conductor Sara Jobin under the auspices of American Opera Projects on the development of a new opera based on Khaled Hosseini's international best-selling novel, A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS.  This work will be featured in Opera America's New Works Forum in NYC  in January, 2016.

She has held artistic leadership positions at The Cleveland Play House and ACT Theatre (Seattle).  In addition, she is a founding board member and past President of Theatre Puget Sound, the theatre service organization for the Pacific Northwest.

Also an educator, Ms. Swackhamer has taught theatre and served as guest artist at the University of Washington, University of Texas, USC, Rice University, University of Houston and Sam Houston State University. She holds an MFA in Directing from the University of Washington School of Drama and is a member of  the professional unions, AGMA and SDC.