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PlayMakers director Joseph Haj to leave post in July

Joseph Haj is credited for making the company more visible.

PlayMakers Repertory Company Producing Artistic Director Joseph Haj is the 2014 recipient of the Zelda Fichandler Award.Photo courtesy of Connie Mahan. Photographer is Jenny Graham.

PlayMakers Repertory Company Producing Artistic Director Joseph Haj is the 2014 recipient of the Zelda Fichandler Award.

Photo courtesy of Connie Mahan. Photographer is Jenny Graham.

During his nine-year tenure as producing artistic director at PlayMakers, Joseph Haj added a second stage series, created a rotating repertory, doubled the number of shows produced each year, started a summer youth conservatory and developed a teaching artist residency program.

Haj said one of his greatest contributions to UNC was extracting PlayMakers from its “ivory tower,” making it visible to the Carolina community.

Haj began his career as an actor at UNC. A graduate student from 1985 to 1988 in UNC’s Master of Fine Arts Professional Actor Training Program, Haj moved on to work as an actor nationally and later took over PlayMakers in 2006 after he began directing.

“When Joe took over, PlayMakers was going through a rough patch,” said Ray Dooley, a UNC professor in dramatic art and PlayMakers actor. “He immediately took an active and positive approach, increased our programming and found the resources necessary to support the programming and put the theater on a sound financial footing, which has continued through his entire tenure.”

Haj also made community involvement a priority when he took over. Although he found it difficult to balance finances along with garnering support from the community and creating high-quality work, he remained dynamic in his leadership.

“The challenge is balancing all of those many aspects in order to make the quality of art that our community has come to expect and to link that work meaningfully to the community that we are charged to serve,” Haj said.

Jeff Meanza, an associate artistic director of PlayMakers, recounts the transformation Haj initiated within PlayMakers to make its walls more transparent.

“He can look at the big picture and understand what needs to happen in order to accomplish the larger goals of the organization,” Meanza said.

Haj’s willingness to collaborate with all members of production stands out to Meanza — whenever Haj was in rehearsal hall, he would listen to all the ideas in the room and believe the best idea should lead.

Dooley remembers the open atmosphere during rehearsals and the feeling of collaboration. He believes Haj’s collaboration was not limited to the rehearsal hall but extends to the diversity in programming and hiring of staff.

“The job is to honor all of those various points of view even while you are moving the team forward in pursuit of agreed upon goals,” Haj said.

Under Haj’s leadership, PlayMakers has received numerous grants and awards including the Triangle Business Journal’s “Leaders in Diversity Award” and a $25,000 grant from the Shakespeare in American Communities program.

Haj was also awarded the prestigious Zelda Fichandler Award in October.

Dooley said Haj’s numerous accolades and improvements to PlayMakers are also a nod to his character off the stage.

“Joe likes to say that the only reason to be an artist is to become a bigger person,” Dooley said. “He leads by example — by setting an example of hardworking, unfailing honesty (and) kindness.”

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