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Setting the stage: Role begets role for alumna

by Jennifer Johnson,

Jihan Haddad

Ever since theatre major Jihan Haddad BA’16 graduated from Willamette University, she’s moved seamlessly from role to role — from venues big and small in New England, to workshops and readings in Alaska and New York City. 

Jihan Haddad BA’16
Jihan Haddad BA’16/Photos by Michael Rosas and Mark turek

She played Mrs. Cratchit in “A Christmas Carol” with the Trinity Repertory Company in Rhode Island, starred as the shipwrecked protagonist in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” at the American Shakespeare Center in Virginia and became “wanna-be royalty” in “Sueño,” a contemporary English language remake of Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s “Life is A Dream” with Trinity Rep. She’s currently co-starring in Lauren Yee’s “The Great Leap,” a play about basketball and taking chances, at Lyric Stage Company in Boston, until March 19. 

“I feel very lucky,” she said. “I’ve built a very strong community here and I wouldn’t have these gigs without the people I call my friends.”  

Plays have always been fun for her. But in college, they served a far greater purpose — a sense of direction and artistic escape after her father died her first year at Willamette. 

Professor of Theatre Susan Coromel, Professor Emeritus Chris Harris and Theatre Department Chair and Associate Professor of Theatre Jonathan Cole supported her in the years following, as did Professor of Theatre Bobby Brewer-Wallin, who allowed her to fully express herself when she chose to do her thesis project on her father. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without them,” she said. 

Willamette Theatre’s visiting artists gave Haddad a sense of what was possible. Director Michelle Seaton, who cast Haddad as Helen of Troy in Ellen McLaughlin’s “Helen,” said the play is “about seeing past the facade of physical appearance and perceptions, and believing in your voice and yourself.” 

It was a breakthrough moment for Haddad — she could “play Helen even if I’m not blond or have blue eyes,” she said — but it became a reality she sees over and over on the East Coast, watching the enormous and diverse community she’s part of fearlessly challenge the traditions of race, gender and sexuality in exciting new ways. 

Haddad witnessed it in her cohort in Brown University/Trinity Repertory’s MFA program, which she completed last year. The program introduced her to incredible opportunities, including “Sueño,” her biggest break to date — it was her first performance through the actor’s union and at a League of Resident Theatre, the largest professional association of its kind in the U.S. 

Although she enjoys traveling and working in regional theatre, she envisions a more stable lifestyle later, one involving a family and a home that would allow her to relive a favorite college memory.

“A lot of our parties were poetry slams — we’d string up fairy lights in someone’s backyard off of State Street or whatever, and they were some of the best times I had,” she said. “Now I want to have a space to host my friends, so I can do a reading of their new play or read their poetry. That type of mentality and sense of community has always stayed with me.” 

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