The giant, half-century-old Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis has named its new director: Palestinian-American Joseph Haj:

hajFifty-one-year-old Haj will become the eighth artistic director of Minneapolis’s Guthrie theatre, one of the largest and most influential non-coastal US theatres. Haj will start¬†the job July 1, when Joe Dowling steps down from a 20-year roll¬†managing the theatre.

A Guthrie news release calls Haj “one of the few Arab-American artistic directors in the country” and marks that he turned his previous theatre company, the Playmakers, into “a place of diversity and inclusion.” The release adds¬†that Haj “has directed projects in a maximum-security prison in Los Angeles, in the West Bank and Gaza, and in rural South Carolina.”

Haj¬†further¬†told the¬†Minneapolis Star-Tribune¬†that he believes a theatre needs to be responsive to world events.¬†He also told the paper that “Large institutions are like ocean liners.¬†We have trouble being responsive.”

Haj was first¬†an actor, and while he has not primarily been known for Arab-American theatre, he has not shied from it. He played in¬†Raja Shehadeh’s When the Bulbul Stopped Singing,¬†a first-person account of Shehadeh’s experience during the 2002 siege of Ramallah. Haj has also embraced other contemporary theatre, such as the show¬†Rodney King.

In a¬†2007 interview with the North Carolina-based¬†Indy Week, Haj said that few good plays were exploring “the Palestinian/ Israeli divide” but told the paper¬†that the 2005 drama My Name Is Rachel Corrie “may be the exception that proves the rule.”

More recently, in January 2015, Haj staged Aaron Davidman’s acclaimed¬†Wrestling Jerusalem, saying that, “Now, especially given recent events in Gaza, it is important to once again look at this area of the world, this time through the lens of a Jewish artist/activist.”

The Guthrie has indeed been an ocean liner, sometimes stuck in its well-worn and popular routes. It will be interesting to see if Haj can steer her in a new direction.

3 thoughts on “Palestinian-American Joseph Haj Named Director of Guthrie Theatre

  1. Congratulations! Mr. Haj! Another proud Palestinian achievement whose homeless roots persevered and continue to do so

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