Posted by on October 14, 2014 in Blog

By Eddie Bejarano
Fall Intern, 2014

Arab American theatre director Joseph Haj recently received the 2014 Zelda Fichandler Award from the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation. 63 other nominees were considered for the award, but Sharon Ott, the selection committee chairperson, said that “Joseph Haj’s exemplary artistry, diverse and exciting programming choices, and deep commitment to the arts in North Carolina made him the unanimous choice for this prestigious award.” The award is named after Zelda Fichandler, one of the original founders of the American regional theatre movement, and is awarded to directors whose artistry changed the American regional theatre scene. Notably, Haj’s 2010 production of Hamlet at the Folger Theatre in Washington, DC was nominated for six Helen Hayes Awards, winning for Outstanding Production. Haj has used his artistic abilities to give back to the community by directing projects in maximum-security prisons in Los Angeles, in Batesburg-Leesville, South Carolina, and in the West Bank and Gaza.

In 1959 Haj’s parents emigrated from Palestine to Patterson, NJ, where Haj was born. In an interview with Ted Sod of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Workshop Foundation, Haj briefly discussed his upbringing as the son of Palestinian immigrants. Haj confessed that it was difficult to preserve his Palestinian background as his family assimilated into American society. Haj reflected that in his parents view “it wasn’t in their interest for us to cling to our cultural identity as Palestinians at the expense of being fully assimilated as Americans.” 

Interestingly, Sod asked Haj to explain why he referred to himself as a “person of color” in previous articles. Haj spoke about previous instances where his ethnic background caused him to be a victim of discrimination. Haj reflected, “In Hollywood, I played roles ranging from Ali to Samir, all of them terrorists. I anglicized my name professionally from Haj to Hodge and all of a sudden I was auditioning for the lawyer named Sam.” For Haj, past experiences ultimately resulted in him wanting to create a theatre “that can be a cultural watering hole where we can engage in dynamic conversations with our community.”

Currently, Joseph Haj is the producing artistic director of PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, NC, a position he has held since 2006.