Joe Dowling's short answer for what he's been up to since leaving the Guthrie Theater seven years ago is wry, particularly when you hear it with his Irish lilt: "Growing older" and making failed lemon drizzle cakes.

The long answer, as the former artistic leader prepares for his directing return with Friday's opening of "The Tempest" is: teaching. Directing plays in Dublin, San Diego and Chicago. Alternating, with wife Siobhán Cleary, between homes in Minneapolis and Dublin, with children and grandchildren to have fun with in both places.

"When I left in 2015, I closed the door on Minneapolis and thought that was it. It was a job reasonably well done. It had its ups and downs, but I felt satisfied," Dowling said. "I'm certainly not eager to be as active as I was for many years. I like the fact I can take on projects as they appeal to me."

One such project returns him to the Guthrie. There was talk of another play and of bringing the "Tempest" he did in 2018 in San Diego but those ideas fell through. Then, a few months into the pandemic, a masked visit to the shuttered Guthrie lit a fire under Dowling.

He spoke recently about his return to the Guthrie and of Shakespeare's last play. His remarks have been edited.

Q: How did this return happen?

A: When I walked on the thrust stage, I felt I needed to do something here. I contacted [Guthrie artistic director Joseph Haj] and said, "Is there any chance that might still be on the agenda?" And he said, "You're not going to believe this but we just finished a temporary schedule for next season and 'The Tempest' is on it and I was going to give you a call." I expected maybe 2024 or 2025, and I'd definitely be senile by then. But he said, "I can actually give you dates right now."

Q: Even when you're not working there, it must be satisfying to drive by the theater and know the role you played in getting it funded, built and open.

A: For the last two years I've gone by with a kind of mixture of pride in what we've achieved and fear for people who lost their jobs and were furloughed or whatever had to happen. The last two years were extremely difficult for everybody but when you see a building that was designed to be state of the art and, apart from "Christmas Carol," this is the first opening in the thrust for over two years, that's been hard, more for the people who have not been able to work there than me.

Q: You're collaborating with a bunch of actors you've directed many times.

A: We started with, "How can we get the maximum number of local actors in this?" Because so many of them have been out of work. It's such a joy. These are friends. Michelle O'Neill and Steve Yoakam and Bill McCallum and Robert Dorfman, people I have worked with again and again. That just makes the whole thing more pleasurable.

Q: Surprisingly, you're working with Regina Marie Williams for the first time. Did you always know the sorcerer usually called Prospero would be Prospera [Williams] in your production? [A former ruler of Milan, Prospera was banished to an island, along with daughter Miranda, but summons the title storm's waves to bring a ship of current rulers to her island and help her regain power.]

A: I didn't, but it always felt an artificial relationship to me, between Prospero and Miranda, his daughter. This is by no means a new thought but I wondered what if I thought of it in terms of a mother and daughter. Prospera says, "I did nothing but in care of thee, my daughter." That resonated in a very different way to me, and so does the notion that she's making sure her daughter has a future.

Q: Other roles have been re-gendered, too?

A: There are so few older female characters [in Shakespeare] because, with the lack of women on stage, they had to be played by boys. In my view, this works really well. And watching that extraordinary actor tackle Prospera is an utter joy.

Q: Having directed "The Tempest" a couple of times previously, are you finding new things in it?

A: Always. One thing that's so beautiful is the whole idea of forgiveness. When Prospera brings those royals onto that island, her firm intention is vengeance. She says, "I will destroy them." At a certain point her spirit, Ariel, played by Tyler Michaels King, turns to her and says — I'm paraphrasing very badly — "If you saw them, you would feel sad for them."

Q: A good message for a divisive time.

A: It suddenly dawns on her that her humanity is being compromised by her need for vengeance. There's this remarkable line where she says, "The rarer act is in virtue than in vengeance." I keep thinking, "In our so-divided world, where it's so easy to lob insults, if only people would listen."

Q: You've spoken about Shakespeare using all the tools in his toolbox to please audiences. You must be excited to see those faces again?

A: I love this audience. I've never worked for a better audience than here, or a more sophisticated audience. I remember when we used to announce seasons with subscribers, when I would announce the Shakespeare title, there'd be applause. "Yes! We want that!"

'The Tempest'

Who: By William Shakespeare. Directed by Joe Dowling.

When: 7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 1 and 7 p.m. Sun., 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Thu. Ends April 16.

Where: Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.

Protocol: Vaccinations and masks that securely cover nose and mouth required.

Tickets: $26-$80, 612-377-2224 or