Joseph Haj has won the 2014 Zelda Fichandler Award from the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation. The prize recognizes a director or choreographer whose work has transformed the American regional theatre scene; it comes with a purse of $5,000.
Haj has been the producing artistic director of PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, N.C. since 2006. In a statement, he remarks, “I am deeply touched and honored to be selected for this award by my peers. To be given an award bearing Zelda Fichandler’s name is more than an accolade, it’s a call to excellence; and I will strive to live up to its charge.”
Haj is one of few Arab-American theatre directors in the U.S., and under his leadership and has worked with a variety of theatres, including the Guthrie, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park. Besides traditional venus, he has also has directed projects in a maximum-security prisons across the country, and in the West Bank and Gaza. Haj recently wrote a popular piece for American Theatre about his experiences co-directing at PlayMakers Rep, and advocating for a wider adoption of the practice.
Of this decision, SDC Foundation selection committee chairperson Sharon Ott said in a statement, "This year the selection committee reviewed a record 63 nominations for the Zelda Fichandler Award…. In this stellar group, 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 SDC Foundation also named five finalists for the prize, who were: Tracy Brigden, artistic director of City Theatre in Pittsburgh; Steven Cosson, artistic director of the Civilians in New York City; Kwame Kwei-Armah, Artistic Director of Center Stage in Baltimore, Md.; Preston Lane, artistic director of Triad Stage in Greensboro, N.C.; and Bonnie J. Monte, artistic director of Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.
The award is named after Zelda Fichandler, one of the founders of the American regional theatre movement. Its given annually within a rotating region of the United States. This years nominees all lived and worked in the Eastern region. The Zelda Fichandler Award will be presented alongside Actors’ Equity’s Joe A. Callaway Awards on Nov. 3 in New York City.