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Guthrie Theater names successor to Joe Dowling

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The Guthrie Theater has named Joseph Haj its new artistic director to succeed the legendary Joe Dowling.

Haj, 51, is currently the director of the PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He will begin his new duties at the Guthrie, in downtown Minneapolis, in July.

"We are thrilled beyond measure" to have Haj at the Guthrie, said theater board chair Lee Skold in the Tuesday morning announcement. "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."

Haj is making a significant career step from PlayMakers, which has an annual budget of $2.8 million, to the Guthrie, whose budget is around $25 million, said the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

"I am delighted and enthused to welcome Joe Haj to the Guthrie," said Dowling, who is retiring after leading the Guthrie for the past 20 years. "He is an artist of the highest caliber and an esteemed leader in our field."

Haj, one of the few Arab-American theater directors in the country, took over at PlayMakers in 2006 and gained a reputation there for emphasizing diversity and inclusion, according to a statement from the company.

"Under Haj, the company has [also] expanded community engagement through educational opportunities, community partnerships and outreach initiatives," it said.

Haj grew up in New Jersey; his parents are originally from Palestine.

"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 said in the statement.

Haj began his theater career as an actor, and appeared in several productions at the Guthrie in the late 1980s and early '90s.

Here's a video of Haj discussing Shakespeare's "Henry V," which he directed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2012.

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