After moving to Toronto, Ziegler was hired immediately by THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE to act in October Soldiers (about the FLQ crisis) and for the CBC's radio version of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, starring Lorne GREENE, a play he would later direct. Engagements with the Toronto Arts Theatre and TARRAGON THEATRE followed. From 1980-82 he was a member of Christopher Newton's first SHAW FESTIVAL acting ensemble as well as appearing on TV in CBC's Empire Inc. Western engagements at Regina's GLOBE THEATRE and Victoria's BELFRY THEATRE came next, and in 1983 Michael Langham finally included him in Stratford's Young Company, and from 1984-87 he was part of STRATFORD FESTIVAL's main company, playing such major Shakespearean roles as Berowne in Love's Labour's Lost, Hotspur in Henry IV Part One, Edgar in King Lear, Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night, Claudio in Measure for Measure, Posthumus in Cymbeline, and Trofimov in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. In 1987, as a volunteer understudy at Stratford, he also played 5 unexpected performances as Othello.
In addition to appearances in such 1980-90 episodic television shows as Street Legal, North of 60, ENG, Forever Knight, Top Cops, Side Effects, Dieppe and Relic Hunter, he returned in 1988 to the Shaw Festival in Voysey Inheritance, acting alongside his teacher Douglas Rain. That year, he toured in NYC with the off-Broadway Theater for a New Audience Company, playing Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew and then in 1989 Macbeth alongside his wife Nancy as Lady Macbeth. Also that year Robin PHILLIPS invited him to be in The Philadelphia Story at both the Grand in London and the CITADEL in Edmonton, and then, surprisingly, to play Clarence opposite Denzel Washington in a 1990 NY production of Richard III in Central Park..
In 1990 Joseph Ziegler made first appearances at Toronto's FACTORY THEATRE in George WALKER's Love and Anger, and then Heidi Chronicles for both the MANITOBA THEATRE CENTRE and the ROYAL ALEXANDRA THEATRE. These productions were succeeded by 2 full seasons at the Citadel with Robin Phillips, where among many roles he played Jacques in As You Like It, and Hamlet. In 1991 Phillips asked him to direct for the first time - a two-hander (a play with only 2 actors) titled Tete à Tete about the final days of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. Phillips served as his designer. It was followed in 1992 by a second directorial success, The Diary of Anne Frank. Back in Toronto in 1993, Ziegler played Inspector Moffat in the TV pilot for Due South and became a regular in the CBC's Side Effects series in the role of Jim Barkin.
He directed Joanna GLASS's If We Are Women for THEATRE NEW BRUNSWICK in 1995 and remounted it for London's GRAND THEATRE and the NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE in Ottawa a year later. In 1996 he was back acting at Tarragon in Jason SHERMAN's The Retreat and then hired to play Len Hubbard, a regular in the Black Harbour TV series (1996-98) filmed in Nova Scotia. However, there was always enough time off to direct plays like Three Tall Women (1997) and Homeward Bound (1999) at London's Grand, Love's Labour's Lost (2003) for the Resurgence Theatre Company in an outdoor production in Newmarket, Ont., Betrayal (2004) at Halifax's NEPTUNE THEATRE, How I Learned to Drive (1998) and Patience (1999) for Toronto's Canadian Stage, and 7 productions during the summers for the Shaw Festival: The Two Mrs Carrolls (1997), The Shop at Sly Corner (1998), Widowers' Houses (2003), Ah Wilderness (2004), Major Barbara (2005), The Heiress (2006) and Getting Married (2008). Theatre critic Richard Ouzounian in the Toronto Star has talked about Ziegler's gift for "bringing Shaw's intimate plays to life" and praised Ziegler's 2008 production of Getting Married for its "elevated comic style," pronouncing it the kind of production "where everyone looks good."
Ziegler celebrated the new century at the Stratford Festival by directing Paul GROSS as Hamlet (2000) and followed it in 2004-05 for SOULPEPPER THEATRE with Albert SCHULTZ playing the prince of Denmark. Ziegler's intimate association with Toronto's Soulpepper Company began in its pioneer 1998 season and following a first year (where he claims only to have been a "cheerleader"), he staged the company's historic and repeated success, Thornton Wilder's Our Town, initially at the Royal Alexandra Theatre (1999) and subsequently in 2006 (and again in 2007) to open their Young Theatre in Toronto's Distillery district. Also for Soulpepper he has directed Present Laughter (2001), King Lear (2006), Mary Stuart (2007) and Ring Round the Moon (2008).
In 2001 Joseph Ziegler added Shakespearean teaching to his resumé, returning first to his alma mater, the National Theatre School, to stage As You Like It. He then worked for the George Brown Theatre School (which adjoins Soulpepper), guiding productions like Love's Labours Lost (2001), All's Well That Ends Well (2004) and The Winter's Tale (2007). His teaching includes Shakespearean Scene Studies and a preliminary course in the difficult Art of Direction, lectures which have been included in the curriculum of Ontario's University of Guelph.
But Joe Ziegler began as an actor and he continues to be one. At Soulpepper he has been seen in Dickens's A Christmas Carol (2001) as Scrooge, accompanied by his son Henry playing Tiny Tim in a holiday production that was repeated in 2006; Absolutely Chekhov (which included The Harmfulness of Tobacco) (2002); Waiting for Godot (2004); The Wild Duck (2005); Blithe Spirit; The Time of Your Life (2007, winning the Dora Mavor Moore Award); and, in 2008, as the professor in Uncle Vanya.
Other Toronto performances have included Kingfisher Days at Tarragon (2003), Whistle in the Dark for Company Theatre (2005, remounted for St John's, Nfld, in 2007), and Habeas Corpus (2005) and The Clean House (2008) at CANADIAN STAGE COMPANY. In addition, there have been parts in many "movies of the week," like Whitewash (2000), The Mathew Sheppard Story (2001), Open House and The Girl (2003), Our Fathers (2004), The Trojan Horse with Paul Gross (CBC 2006), and Amreeka (2008).