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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — To see the legacy Joe Dowling is leaving after 20 years as artistic director of one of the nation's premier regional theaters, look no further than the Mississippi River.
On the river's banks stands Dowling's monument — the metallic, deep-blue structure that now houses the Guthrie Theater and its three stages. In 2006, Dowling shepherded the namesake theater of Irish stage director Sir Tyrone Guthrie from its original location in Minneapolis, where the Tony Award-winning theater was founded in 1963, across town to a new, 285,000-square-foot building designed by acclaimed French architect Jean Nouvel.
Dowling points with pride to the $125 million new Guthrie with its inviting public spaces, fine dining restaurant, cafe, bars and the Endless Bridge, a 178-foot cantilever platform that ends with a panoramic view of the rushing Mississippi.
"It's a spectacular piece of architecture, and it works," Dowling said.
Dowling, 66, the longest-serving artistic director of the seven in Guthrie history, is departing June 30, handing over artistic control to Joseph Haj, producing artistic director at PlayMakers Repertory Theatre in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Haj, 51, will face the challenge of programming three stages — the 1,100-seat signature thrust stage, re-created from the Guthrie's original home; a 700-seat proscenium or "picture-frame" stage; and the Dowling Studio, which seats up to 200.
Among his accomplishments, Dowling points to the fact that the nonprofit Guthrie, which has about 150 full-time and about 150 part-time employees, had only one year with a deficit during his tenure. The Guthrie ended the 2012-13 season with a $437,000 deficit but rebounded the next season with a nearly $250,000 surplus, thanks in part to a sold-out run of "My Fair Lady," which he directed, the top-grossing show in Guthrie history.
"We're not a niche organization. We're a large-scale, all-purpose theater. So the attempts to drive us into niches, to say the Guthrie should be doing more of this or more of that, won't work. We have to appeal to a very large audience," Dowling said.
Barb Klingbeil, 60, of Brooklyn Park said she became a Guthrie season ticket holder after Dowling became artistic director in 1995. She said Dowling "brought back a real interest by the community."
A native of Dublin, Dowling is closing out his Guthrie career by directing Sean O'Casey's "Juno and the Paycock," a tragic comedy about a poverty-stricken Dublin family during the Irish Civil War. Dowling has a long history with the play, which he staged at the Gate Theatre in Dublin in 1986. Eventually the production opened on Broadway in 1988 and brought Dowling to America for a career he had never imagined.
Actor Peter Michael Goetz, 73, a Guthrie veteran who has appeared in about 10 plays directed by Dowling, including the current production of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," says Dowling has a keen eye for detail, noting when an actor may have changed shoes or when an actress' scarf is out of place.
Goetz recalled trying to employ dog traits like barking and scratching while rehearsing as the character Dogberry in Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing." Dowling let Goetz use more and more dog traits — but only so far.
"There's a point where Joe knows ... that you're doing too much," Goetz said. "But he waits about three or four days. He'd say, 'Peter, three barks instead of five.'"
Guthrie Theater: http://www.guthrietheater.org
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