The yearlong search is over for the Guthrie’s new artistic director. Joseph Haj, 51, will succeed Joe Dowling in July 2015, leaving his current position at PlayMakers Repertory Company, the theater company in residence at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he has been the producing artistic director since 2006.
One of the few Arab-American artistic directors in the United States, Haj is credited with transforming PlayMakers into a place of diversity and inclusion. A UNC-CH graduate, he began his theater career as an actor, performing with directors Garland Wright, JoAnne Akalaitis, Anne Bogart, Peter Sellars and others. If Haj looks familiar, it’s because he made his Guthrie debut in the 1989-90 season in Akalaitis’ production of “The Screens,” then returned for “The Skin of Our Teeth,” “Troilus & Cressida,” “Richard II,” “Henry IV” and “Henry V.”
Haj has directed at theaters across the U.S. 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 and won for Outstanding Production. At PlayMakers, he presented the world premiere of “Surviving Twin” by 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 Mike Wiley’s “The Parchman Hour.” Under his leadership, PlayMakers hosted artistic residencies or performances by David Edgar, Milaja Sun, Taylor Mac, Lisa Kron, Rinde Eckert, SITI Company, Pig Iron, The TEAM, Rude Mechs and others.
In 2014, Haj received the Zelda Fichandler Award, presented in recognition of a director or choreographer deemed transformative to the regional theater. American Theatre magazine named him one of the 25 theater artists who will have a significant impact on the field over the next quarter-century, and he received the NEA/White House Council Millennium Grant, awarded to 50 of America’s finest artists.
“I am delighted and enthused to welcome Joe Haj to the Guthrie,” Dowling said in a statement. “I am gratified that our board has selected an individual who will both embrace and invigorate our theater and community.”
Haj said, “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.”
Haj’s three-year appointment was approved unanimously by the Guthrie Board of Directors on Monday. He will visit the theater periodically as he prepares for the Guthrie’s 2015-16 season and will officially assume his post on July 1, relocating to Minneapolis with his wife, Deirdre Haj, and their teenage daughter.