For the second time in a month, a member of the Guthrie Theater’s “dream team” of leaders is exiting to take a job in San Francisco.
Managing director Jennifer Bielstein will take over as executive director of American Conservatory Theater, one of the country’s top regional theaters, in August. She was hired by Guthrie artistic director Joseph Haj in January 2016, coming to Minneapolis after 10 years as managing director at Actors Theatre of Louisville.
Bielstein, 48, cut her teeth in Chicago’s theater scene, including working as marketing director for the famed Steppenwolf Theatre.
“It’s much sooner than I would have expected to leave the Guthrie,” Bielstein said in an interview Tuesday. “There are few theaters that I would go to at this point in my career, and these positions only become available every 10 to 15 years. This is a wonderful community. The Guthrie is an amazing organization. And Joe’s a fabulous leader and very talented artistic director and director who is taking the Guthrie to new heights.”
The move means the Guthrie is losing both of its top female leaders. Last month, development director Danielle St. Germain-Gordon, who is the theater’s chief fundraiser, announced plans to take a similar job at San Francisco Ballet starting in July.
ACT is a slightly smaller theater, with an annual budget of $23 million to the Guthrie’s $28 million, but the position represents a step up for Bielstein. She’ll be a co-equal to ACT’s new artistic director, Pam MacKinnon, a Tony-winning Steppenwolf veteran.
Described by a colleague as “one of the stars in our field” when she was hired by the Guthrie, Bielstein also serves as president of the League of Resident Theatres, an organization that represents regional theaters around the nation. The Guthrie will conduct a national search for her replacement.
Bielstein has helped guide the Guthrie through a time of prosperity — the theater announced a balanced budget in December — but also one of turmoil. Last month, the theater announced results of an internal investigation that found an instance of “inappropriate physical contact,” as well as sexist remarks.
The investigation was triggered by the resignation in January of carpenter Molly Diers, who described workplace harassment in the theater’s scene shop. The Guthrie also faces a National Labor Relations Board charge filed on Diers’ behalf.
Bielstein said in January there was still work to be done.
Earlier that month, 79 employees from various departments signed an open letter to the Guthrie leadership and board decrying “systemic inequalities” and “sexist operational practices and structures that place women at a distinct disadvantage.”
Haj told staff in a series of meetings last month that the work around diversity and inclusion can be challenging. “But we can be an example to one another and to society at large of what a functional, respectful, safe, collegial, nonprejudicial workplace looks like,” he said.