Pillsbury House Theatre has reached into its own ranks for its new leader. Artist and activist Signe Harriday, a longtime company member who commands respect for her work as a director and actor and her deep engagement with community, has been tapped to succeed Faye Price when she retires in June after 21 years at the helm.
Harriday will shadow Price on a part-time basis starting in May before assuming the role of artistic producing director full time on July 1.
"Signe's experience makes her ideally suited" to build on the theater's legacy, Price said, calling her brilliant and committed.
"One of the things that excites me about Pillsbury House is that it's a professional theater housed inside a social service agency," Harriday said. "There really is a marriage and a desire for the agency to include artistry at all levels."
She has been interested in both theater and service since childhood in Los Angeles, where her father, the late Rev. Isaiah Harriday, served as a Lutheran pastor. He made history when he became the first Black person to be ordained as an ELCA pastor after earning his master of divinity degree from Luther Theological Seminary. He also was the second Black graduate of St. Olaf College, Harriday's alma mater. Her Minnesota-born mother, Theamarie Loberg Harriday, worked for a suicide prevention agency.
"From a very young age, I felt a deep responsibility to make the world better in whatever ways I was able," Harriday said. "I do believe that I have been given gifts and talents of a kind that it would feel wasteful to not utilize."
Harriday double-majored in speech and theater at St. Olaf. She spent a semester abroad at the University of Ghana, studying rituals.
She also studied theater with noted director Robert Woodruff at Harvard, where she earned her master of fine arts degree in acting. As part of the program, she spent time in Russia at the Moscow Art Theatre, founded in 1898.
Mixed Blood Theatre founder Jack Reuler hired Harriday for her first job out of college, to work in public relations and audience development.
Harriday first auditioned for Pillsbury House more than 20 years ago. She became a company member alongside the likes of Obie-winning director Marion McClinton and artist Laurie Carlos, a mentor.
"There's this enduring truth that human societies have always needed to tell stories to help navigate trauma and contextualize our lives," Harriday said. "Telling stories is a lifeline of any community, particularly in these moments of deep reckoning."
Harriday spoke from New York, where she's directing Sharon Bridgforth's play, "The Bull-Jean Stories." She will continue to direct even as she works at Pillsbury House.
She has had an entrepreneurial spirit throughout her career, starting organizations to fill needs. Harriday cofounded Mama Mosaic, a women of color theater company whose mission is to evoke positive social change through female-centered work, and the Million Artist Movement, a group of artists committed to Black liberation. One of her latest endeavors is Rootsprings Coop, a retreat center for BIPOC artists, activists and healers.
She also stands out for an award that few, if any, theater leaders can boast: a gold medal in swimming. In 2018, her synchronized swim team won top honors at the Gay Games in Paris.
Noël Raymond, who has served alongside Price, will stay on in her leadership role at Pillsbury House with the new title of senior director of narrative, arts and culture.
"[Signe] has deep and long connections to Pillsbury House Theatre and I feel very fortunate to be able to support her vision as she builds on the artistic legacies of [founder] Ralph Remington and Faye M. Price," Raymond said.
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390