This finally is the all-new Guthrie Theater.
With the Jan. 5 appointment of Jennifer Bielstein, artistic director Joe Haj has now placed three new people into the company’s big-four administrative positions. Bielstein will become managing director when she arrives April 1 — a first among equals in the Guthrie’s second level of leadership after Haj.
Until then, Bielstein, 46, is squaring away her desk at Actors Theatre of Louisville, Ky., where she has been managing director for nine years. Before that, she spent 15 years in Chicago theater, with experience in administration, communications, fundraising and producing.
Bielstein answered a few questions by phone.
Q: You know the Guthrie, of course. What else do you know of the Twin Cities as a theater town?
A: I have visited five to six times over the last decade. I think it’s a vibrant community. I’m aware of the multiple companies and excited to see work at various theaters. I don’t know how it works as a theater community. Chicago, where I did a lot of my work, is a large theater community that is highly collaborative.
Q: What role can you play in collaboration here?
A: It’s certainly the way I am wired. Working together leverages our collective strengths. I don’t know enough in the community to see what’s needed. I know the impact on the community is highly important to Joe as well.
Q: Any ideas for building audience? What did you do at Louisville?
A: It’s early for me to be specific on anything. I like to gather information and data and understand who the current audience is.
At Actors Theatre, we had several streams of programming and, of course, Humana [one of the nation’s premier festivals of new plays]. New work is tougher to sell, so we have done a lot to generate excitement among our local audience.
We tested the concern that younger people are more interested in social media than art. We have had nights where we blocked off a section of the balcony for social media users. By intermission, most of them had put down their phones to watch the show.
Q: Have you talked with Joe about bringing new plays to the Guthrie, or through some partnership with the Playwrights’ Center?
A: We have not had those discussions. I’m coming for “Pericles.” I’m staying a few days, and Joe and I will have a discussion.
Q: Does your role allow you sufficient outlet for artistic expression?
A: My orientation and goals are around impact. The reason I love theater is that I believe it can powerfully impact people’s lives. My interest is deepening that experience. It’s a perfect role.
Q: Do you have favorite plays or playwrights?
A: I like so many. It’s an impossible question for me. All of the new work and the writers we get to read and produce.
Q: How about no one within the last 20 years, so you won’t offend any new writer by not picking them?
A: I guess [Sam] Shepard, [Tom] Stoppard, [David] Mamet.
Q: You come from a situation where you and [Actors Theatre artistic director Les Waters] were pretty much coequals. How do you make the transition to a company where there is an undisputed CEO and then a group of four?
A: We had that conversation, absolutely. So as I understand it, I am to be the last person in the room with Joe. The way I work now, I believe I am here to serve the art and the artistic vision. I think it will feel very similar, but I will not be reporting to the board.
Q: What’s your philosophy on office politics, a big part of a collaborative industry?
A: My style is about strong communication and transparency. Initially it is about relationship development. Understand the people who are your key collaborators and their perspective. How you keep them going forward. Knowing your community. The way to say it effectively.
Q: You know the Twin Cities for its artistic reputation. Do you have other impressions on what might be our signature characteristics?
A: One of the most striking to me is the strong culture of philanthropy. It’s very intriguing and important to any nonprofit. The generosity of wanting to invest in your community is a wonderful thing to move into.
I think you have an interesting downtown area. I’ve driven around Lake Harriet and Calhoun, all the biking trails. You have a city of interesting neighborhoods.
Q: You are married, right?
A: Yes, to Shane Spaulding. He works in events management and does some touring with musicians. He’s out now with the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra. We met in theater in Chicago. His background is stage management.
Q: Any hobbies?
A: I spend a lot of time around theater. I love to see other performing arts. We love live music.
Q: Classical or more modern?
A: More rock and popular. I love running and walking. I’m excited to explore the lakes and parks.
Q: Where do you want to live?
A: We will rent initially and get a sense of the different neighborhoods.
Q: The low in Minneapolis [last weekend] will be 9 below zero. The high in Louisville will be 55. You are a native of Houston. Are you ready?
A: I lived in Chicago for 15 years. I’ve got to rebuild my warm clothing wardrobe. Get some great boots and coats.
Q: Are you nervous?
A: It’s all the unknown, so, yeah.