An introduction to Stephanie Hensen Dittmer

Our new Director of Development, Stephanie Hensen Dittmer, talks to the Patrons Team about what led her to the RSC and what she is looking forward to in her new role.

Stephanie Hensen Dittmer seated in the auditorium
Stephanie Hensen Dittmer at the Love's Labour's Lost press night, April 2024.
Photo by Simon Hadley © RSC Browse and license our images

What are your professional career highlights so far?

When I moved to the UK from America 17 years ago, I felt like a girl in a sweetie shop. I had a childhood rich with arts and culture - there was a lot of music and performing in my household and my mother is an artist – so to have the opportunity to build a life and career here felt like an extraordinary gift, being surrounded by so much history, beauty, and artists creating wonderful things.

My first job was with the Philharmonia Orchestra with Esa Pekka Salonen as the Principal Conductor. I was stunned by his bravery and his appetite for disruption and innovation. I will always remember an immersive digital project we did in a disused warehouse on the Thames called RE:RITE, which let us walk amongst projections of the orchestra’s players who had been captured using 360 cameras while they performed The Rite of Spring.

While I was at the Philharmonia, I took in as much culture as I could from other companies and found myself in regular returns queues for the Donmar Warehouse in particular. My first visit to the Donmar was to see a young Eddie Redmayne opposite Alfred Molina in John Logan’s RED, which was about Mark Rothko, the rise of abstract expressionism, and the tangle of capitalism and the creation of art. It was beautiful, and it spoke to me in a way that would change how I experienced theatre and art from that point on, so when Michael Grandage (the then Artistic Director of the Donmar) invited me to join his team, I couldn’t possibly say no. I had my biggest career highlight quite early on when Derek Jacobi did a truly iconic turn as King Lear. I remember travelling all over with that one - from rural North Wales to New York. Maybe from seeing the production over a dozen times, or from Sir Derek’s performance, that production revealed the immense power that exists in the words of Shakespeare. I think on that time often and with huge fondness and gratitude.

What drew you to the Royal Shakespeare Company?

I’ve always admired the work of the RSC, and it’s one of the most recognised and significant theatre companies in the world – how could I not be drawn to both its outstanding heritage, but also to the dynamism of the new artistic leadership in Daniel and Tamara?! I am inspired by their commitment to always have Shakespeare on stage, as well as use our position as a leader in this industry to identify new voices and bold stories and use our platform to share their talent with Stratford, our industry, and the rest of the world.

What are some hidden gems of the RSC you didn’t know before starting and think people should know about?

The fact that has delighted me most in my tours and meetings with the team is how the RSC was born of philanthropy! As it has been told to me, this was a pipedream of a local brewer who, when he heard of the town’s intention to erect a statue in Shakespeare’s honour, insisted Stratford should do something bigger, like build a theatre. He raised the money, primarily from American philanthropists, and here we are over 100 years later. And the town built its statue, so everyone got what they wanted!

"I am inspired by [Daniel and Tamara's] commitment to always have Shakespeare on stage, as well as use our position as a leader in this industry to identify new voices and bold stories"

What Patron event are you looking forward to the most?

I’m about to head into the famous Shakespeare Birthday Weekend and I can’t wait to participate in some of the festivities with our Patrons. I have no idea what to expect, but I’ve been promised rosemary sprigs, birthday cake, Morris dancers, and church! I’m looking forward to checking out The Play’s The Thing which has been co-curated by our Creative Learning and Engagement team and a number of local organisations – that will be my first glimpse of our Folio, which I’m also excited to see.

The cast of the Buddha of Suburbia surround Emma Rice in the rehearsal room
Emma Rice and The Buddha of Suburbia company in the rehearsal room, March 2024.
Photo by Steve Tanner © RSC Browse and license our images

Which production are you most looking forward to this season?

Oooh, that’s a hard one. The Buddha of Suburbia has got to be up there, and the cast are the most joyful and energetic bunch I’ve encountered in a while. It’s a treat to have the imagination of Emma Rice in the building. I’m also a huge fan of Blanche McIntyre, and I think her production of Merry Wives is going to be excellent. But then there’s The School for Scandal which is going to be a hot pink fever dream directed by the wonderful Tinuke Craig, and then there’s the world premiere of Kyoto directed by Stephen Daldry, and Pericles which is rarely performed and also Tamara’s RSC debut – I need an easier question, there’s too much!

What do you love about theatre? 

I love this question, and if you’ll indulge me I’ll extend it to the arts in general. We understand the world and ourselves better through the arts. There’s something magical about experiencing a character on stage and recognising them without ever having known them because, fundamentally, what makes humans “go” is rather similar when we get down to it. The world is in a pretty terrible state at the moment, there’s a lot to unpick and to understand and even more to fix. I think the next two years will uncover some astonishing art that will be informed and inspired by trying to make sense of the world today, how we got to this place, and what there is to learn from that. Shakespeare gives this to us in abundance - I find it incredibly comforting. 

"We understand the world and ourselves better through the arts."

Who is your favourite Shakespeare character? Or, what is your favourite Shakespeare play?

Admittedly, I am no Shakespeare expert, and I’m clearly biased towards the work I’ve been part of… besides Derek Jacobi’s King Lear, which really sits at the top of my list, I love Julius Caesar and Henry IV, both parts. When I was at the Donmar, Phyllida Lloyd and Harriet Walter immersed us in a universe where these three stories were played out in a women’s prison, to really powerful effect. I thought it was incredible, both for Phyllida’s vision and imagination and Harriet’s swaggering and powerful performances. While I think a lot was done in those productions to push our culture’s collective understanding and questioning of who is “allowed” to portray Shakespeare, I really like those three plays because they spark imagination in a lot of contemporary creators – we see adaptations of Julius Caesar and Henry IV parts I and II pretty regularly - the characters and text are incredibly dexterous, and I think we’re lucky to see so many different versions which so often reflect the tensions and events of whatever decade they have been created.

What three words would you use to describe yourself?

I could so easily overthink this one or overexplain it – I'll aim not to do that and let you all decide if I’m right!

I would describe myself as warm, imaginative and determined, three qualities I look forward to bringing to Daniel and Tamara’s RSC, and to my time with our community of incredible supporters.

Wonderful things are ahead!

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