Thompson sees Guthrie's historic hire as mandate for change

Joseph HajThe unexpected appointment of Joseph Haj as the new artistic Director at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theatre is being heralded with surprised enthusiasm from around the country.

Haj, the son of Palestinian immigrants, becomes the only Arab-American to ever head a major American theatre. Kent Thompson, Haj’s peer counterpart at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, calls Haj smart, persuasive, empathetic and curious. 

“Joe is a talented artist and director, a lover of the classics and new plays, a champion of the theatre industry, and always devoted to nurturing the next generation of theatre audiences, artists and performances,” said Thompson.

“In addition, his leadership in issues of diversity has already had a significant impact on the American Theatre.  For me, Joe’s Arab-American heritage and perspective is an added bonus, but his appointment also signals a recognition by The Guthrie to broaden its artistic and organizational mandate.” 

Thompson considers the Guthrie “a neighbor theatre” to the DCPA, which was in many ways modeled after the Guthrie Theatre. Founder Donald Seawell hired namesake Sir Tyrone Guthrie to his first Artistic Director, but he died during the complex’s initial planning stages in 1971.

Kent Thompson on Joseph HajHaj, 51, is currently producing artistic director of PlayMakers Repertory Company at the University of North Carolina, and heads their MFA training program.

“He’s a huge player on the national scene — one of the finest theater artists working in America today,” Ralph Remington, former head of theater at the National Endowment for the Arts, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “I can’t think of a better choice for that job.”

Haj, 51, will succeed Joe Dowling, who retires June 30 after 20 years at the helm of the Guthrie, which sold 360,000 tickets last year, and has a budget of roughly $27 million.

Said Haj: “A great theater makes a community bigger, kinder and saner.”

Read the full story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune