SAN FRANCISCO: Jennifer Bielstein has been named the new executive director of American Conservatory Theater (ACT). She is currently the managing director of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. AT ACT, she will take over for Peter Pastreich, who will depart the theatre at the end of the 2017-18 season.
Bielstein has been at the Guthrie since 2016 and she says that the new job offer came as a surprise to her. But the opportunity to lead the theatre alongside Tony-winning director Pam MacKinnon (who will become artistic director in July) was too great an opportunity to pass up. While at the Guthrie, Bielstein reports to artistic director Joseph Haj, at ACT, she will co-lead the theatre with MacKinnon.
“Just by virtue of the two of us being new, there will be quite a bit of organizational change to navigate,” says Bielstein. “I know that while change can be significant and invigorating, it can also be exhausting for an organization.” Part of her strategy for her new job will be to “navigate that and seize opportunities, in tandem to being new, and really leveraging some increased excitement around the theatre.”
Prior to the Guthrie, she was the managing director of Actors Theatre of Louisville for 10 seasons. She also serves as the president of the League of Resident Theatres, which represents 74 of the largest theatres around the country. At the Guthrie, she oversaw the organization’s $28-million budget and three-venue building.
At ACT, she will manage a $23-million budget, and a two-theatre venue with a conservatory program. “I am thrilled Jennifer will be stepping into ACT with me,” said MacKinnon in a statement. “Her knowledge of, commitment to, and passion for theatre is unparalleled. I cannot wait!”
Bielstein will begin her new job in August. The Guthrie will soon launch a search for her replacement. In the meantime, Bielstein is helping wrap up a four-month-long investigation into sexual harassment allegations at the Guthrie, following the resignation of two full-times staffers and a subsequent open letter signed by 79 workers that decried the organizations “sexist operational practices.”
Following the investigation, the Guthrie plans to takes steps to fix its workplace policies and educate its staffers on proper conduct. When asked what she learned from the investigation that she plans to take to ACT, she was circumspect.
“I think the other is, often times many of us feel that we are very accessible and approachable leaders, and people will of course bring their issues up,” she says. “But I think it’s a reminder that not everyone feels safe to report concerns. So ensuring that there are multiple safe pathways for people to bring issues up as they encounter them organizationally.” She also continued, saying that it’s important to acknowledge that change is “a long-term effort” and that the important thing is “continuing to do the work that will have longer-term impact, in terms of training and educating and building awareness of sexism, racism, all forms of discrimination and prejudice.”
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