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Best Directors In The Local Theater Scene In Minnesota

We tend to take theater for granted because of Minnesota's abundance of high-quality productions. To be certain, there are local directors who have stood the tests of time and show business creating the many shows worth seeing and the essence of our culture.

Don Stolz

The dean of theater joined the Old Log when he was 23 as a graduate student in theater at Northwestern University. The year was 1941 for those who were not around then. He mentored actor Nick Nolte for three years, Loni Anderson for a while and WCCO news anchor Dave Moore also made stage appearances in the 60s. Stolz was a prominent radio personality and contributed to the growth of television in the Twin Cities. While Stolz retired in 2006 and his sons took over the operations, he still makes a short speech before and after each night's performance. "Mahalia" was written and directed by Don's son Tom.

Guthrie Theatre
(credit: Amanda Ortland)

Joe Dowling
Guthrie Theater
818 S. 2nd St.
Minneapolis, MN 55415
(612) 377-2224

In reviewing Dowling's recently directed play, "Long Day's Journey Into Night," Rohan Preston, StarTribune writer, attributes "the lightness of Dowling's interpretation" to the success of O'Neill's otherwise long and murky play. Scott Johnson, Powerline blogger, seconds Preston's view that "the production performs a service to the play," saying "Dowling has brilliantly staged the play." As Guthrie's Artistic Director since 1995, Dowling has directed many of its major plays such as "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "The Playboy of the Western World," "Much Ado About Nothing," "The Importance of Being Earnest," "Julius Caesar," "Twelfth Night," "Romeo and Juliet," "Macbeth" and "Amadeus." Dowling established his credentials across Europe, Canada and the U.S. before arriving at the Guthrie. Schooled in Ireland, Dowling established Ireland's first theater-in-education group and what is now Ireland's top drama school, the Gaiety School of Acting. Dowling remains a giant among Minnesota's artistic directors.

Related: Best Independent Movie Theaters In The Twin Cities

James Rocco 
Ordway Center
345 Washington St.
St. Paul, MN 55102
(651) 224-4222

A powerhouse of talent, James Rocco has a new CD "It's Between Us," available on all the usual online websites. Listen to it and you will be surprised. He recently produced several major popular shows as active member of The Broadway League, Elephant Eye Theatricals, Five Cent Productions and the Independent Producers' Network. Over the years, he has sung for Herbie Hancock and the Duke Ellington Band and produced and directed shows at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. His resume lists countless theatrical, stage show, musical, TV documentary and choreography gigs across the U.S. and Japan.

William Shakespeare
(credit: Jupiter Images)

Michelle Hensley
Ten Thousand Things
3153 36th Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55406
(612) 203-9502

Pioneers like Michelle Hensley forge ahead often unaware of how they are altering the course of society. However, Minnesota Public Radio and the StarTribune have noticed how she brings theater to those who have little access. Bringing Shakespeare to prisons, homeless shelters, low-income housing and community centers creates a whole new way of thinking about theater. Hensley says it reminds us that theater should be essential to all of our lives. She must reduce it down to its most elemental form in a venue without stages, lighting or technical effects requiring that actors perform with urgency, liveliness and profound honesty. "We do not preach easy answers to life's difficulties and we seek to transcend the perceptions of class, race, education and life experience that often divide us," adds Hensley.

Related: Best Places To See Ballet In Minnesota

Robin Johnson was born in Annandale, Minn. and graduated from the University of Minnesota where he studied Political Science, Business and Industrial Relations. A writer for, he also consults with a variety of organizations and individuals helping them develop and grow. His work can be found at

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