The Guthrie Theater Names Joseph Haj Artistic Director

by Naomi Crews

Joseph Haj will assume the role of artistic director of the Guthrie Theater in July of 2015.After a year-long search, the Guthrie Theater has announced its new Artistic Director, Joseph Haj. Haj comes to the Guthrie from PlayMakers Repertory Company, the LORT theater company in residence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a highly respected artist with a reputation for exceptional leadership, notable collaborations and partnerships with the industry’s leading artists and influencers, and award-winning productions of classic and contemporary plays. 


(Minneapolis/St. Paul) The Guthrie Theater announced recently that Joseph Haj will become its eighth artistic director in July 2015, succeeding Joe Dowling. The announcement by Board Chair Lee Skold and Search Committee Chair Patricia Simmons ends an extensive year-long search.
Skold said “We are thrilled beyond measure to declare Joseph Haj the Guthrie’s next artistic director. We know his inspired vision, collaborative spirit, and standard of excellence are the precise combination of abilities required to lead the Guthrie into its next momentous stage.”
“I am delighted and enthused to welcome Joe Haj to the Guthrie” said Dowling. “He is an artist of the highest caliber and an esteemed leader in our field. I look forward to collaborating with him in these next months and am gratified that our board has selected an individual who will both embrace and invigorate our theater and community.”

Haj remarked “To follow in a line of extraordinary artistic directors dating back to the founding of the regional theater movement, and to follow directly upon Joe Dowling’s exceptional tenure, is humbling, a profound honor, and a great charge.” He added “I look forward to working with the Twin Cities community and with the remarkable board members, artists, artisans and administrators of the Guthrie in leading a great organization on the next leg of its journey.”
From performer to director to artistic director, Joseph Haj, 51, is a highly respected visionary with a reputation for exceptional leadership, notable collaborations and partnerships with the industry’s leading artists and influencers, and award-winning productions of classic and contemporary plays. Haj was the 2014 recipient of The Zelda FichandlerAward, an honor presented by the stage director’s and choreographer’s union, which recognizes an outstanding director or choreographer deemed transformative to the regional theater through innovative, brave work and a commitment to community. Additionally, he was named by American Theatre magazine as one of the 25 theater artists who will have a significant impact on the field over the next quarter century, and was recipient of the respected NEA/White House Council Millennium Grant awarded to 50 of America’s finest artists.
One of the few Arab-American artistic directors in the country, Haj comes to the Guthrie from PlayMakers Repertory Company, the LORT theater company in residence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As its Producing Artistic Director since 2006, Haj programmed approximately 10 productions per season, transformed the theater into a place of diversity and inclusion, and maintained a dynamic relationship with the university. At PlayMakers, Hajpresented the world premiere of Surviving Twin by Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Loudon Wainwright, III; commissioned and premiered Mike Daisey’s The Story of the Gun; commissioned and premiered UNIVERSES’ play Spring Training; and produced the premiere of The Parchman Hour by award-winning film and theatre director Mike Wiley. Under Haj’s leadership, PlayMakers hosted artist residencies or performances by David Edgar, Nilaja Sun, Taylor Mac, Lisa Kron, Rinde Eckert, SITI Company, Pig Iron, The TEAM, Rude Mechs, and others. He also directed productions of The Tempest and Metamorphoses (both co-directed with Dominique Serrand), Into the WoodsCabaretHenry IV & VThe IllusionAmadeusPericlesBig RiverAs You Like ItNicholas NicklebyWell and Cyrano.
Haj has directed at theaters throughout the United States including Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Actors Theatre of Louisville, and the Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C., where his 2010 production of Hamlet was nominated for six Helen Hayes Awards, winning for Outstanding Production. Outside of traditional theaters, Haj has directed projects in a maximum-security prison in Los Angeles, in the West Bank and Gaza, and in rural South Carolina.
Upon receiving his M.F.A. from the University of North Carolina, Haj launched his career as an actor, performing with the theater’s foremost directors including Garland Wright, JoAnne Akalaitis, Anne Bogart (as an original member of SITI Company), Peter Sellars, Sir Peter Hall, Robert Woodruff and others. This appointment brings his professional journey full circle as Haj made his Guthrie debut in the 1989-90 season in Akalaitis’s production of The Screens, and went on to perform leading roles in The Skin of Our Teeth and Troilus & Cressida, and had roles in Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V.
Haj has served on the Board of Directors of Theatre Communications Group, and is currently a member of the LORT Diversity Task Force, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society Diversity Task Force, and Under the Radar’s Director’s Circle.
The process of identifying a new artistic director for the Guthrie began a year ago. The Search Committee worked in tandem with Greg Kandel and Management Consultants for the Arts to conduct the extensive search. Haj’s three-year appointment was approved unanimously by the Guthrie Board of Directors on February 16. 
Haj will visit the theater periodically as he prepares for the Guthrie’s 2015-16 season, and will officially assume his post on July 1, 2015. He will relocate to Minneapolis with his wife Deirdre Haj and their teenage daughter. Dowling, who after 20 years is the longest tenured artistic director in Guthrie history, remains the theater’s head through June 30 and will direct Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock in the upcoming months. 
The GUTHRIE THEATER was founded by Sir Tyrone Guthrie in 1963 and is an American center for theater performance, production, education and professional training. The Tony Award-winning Guthrie Theater is dedicated to producing the great works of dramatic literature, developing the work of contemporary playwrights and cultivating the next generation of theater artists. With annual attendance of nearly 500,000 people, the Guthrie presents a mix of classic plays and contemporary work on its three stages. Under the artistic leadership of Joe Dowling since 1995, the Guthrie continues to set a national standard for excellence in theatrical production and performance. In 2006, the Guthrie opened its new home on the banks of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, the Guthrie houses three state-of-the-art stages, production facilities, classrooms and dramatic public lobbies.