BWW Interview: Producing Artistic Director, Mark S. Hoebee Looks to the Future of PAPER MILL PLAYHOUSE
Broadwayworld New Jersey continues our series of interviews with top theatre professionals to learn about their upcoming plans and how they are maintaining contact with patrons and the public during the Covid-19 Outbreak.
Mark S. Hoebee is the Producing Artistic Director of Paper Mill Playhouse and he directs shows at the theatre. We are impressed by the positive energy he continues to bring to the Playhouse as they plan for the future.
Hoebee joined the artistic team at Paper Mill Playhouse in 2000. Under his leadership, Paper Mill was presented with the Regional Theatre Tony Award in 2016 and in recent years launched such noteworthy projects as the world premieres of Newsies, in partnership with Disney Theatrical Group, Honeymoon in Vegas,Ever After, Bandstand, A Bronx Tale, The Honeymooners, My Very Own British Invasion, and The Sting starring Harry Connick, Jr., as well as the American premieres of the 25th Anniversary Production of Les Misérables, working alongside Cameron Mackintosh, Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the national tour of The Bodyguard starring Deborah Cox. On Broadway, Mark directed the Actors Fund benefit of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas starring Jennifer Hudson. He has directed national tours of Victor/Victoria starring Toni Tennille, Dreamgirls, Company, and An Evening of Lerner and Loewe starring Diahann Carroll. His directing credits at Paper Mill include West Side Story;Beauty and the Beast; Annie; Mary Poppins; Dreamgirls; Hello, Dolly! starring Tovah Feldshuh; Harold and Maude: The Musical with Estelle Parsons; The Will Rogers Follies starring John Davidson; Meet Me in St. Louis; The King and I; Miss Saigon; Disney's High School Musical; Peter Pan; Smokey Joe's Cafe; Oliver!; Damn Yankees; Thoroughly Modern Millie;Curtains; and The Full Monty starring Broadway legend Elaine Stritch. He resides in Glen Ridge with his partner Larry Elardo, Broadcast Coordinating Producer for the CBS Evening News and CBS Sunday Morning, and their children, Stephen and Ashley.
In these unprecedented times, what steps has Paper Mill Playhouse taken to stay connected to their patrons and supporters?
Like most other businesses, we are taking advantage of email and social media to communicate with our patrons-not only for routine logistical messaging, but also in an effort to enhance our engagement opportunities in these times of social distancing. As a theater, we are in the business of bringing people together, making connections and entertaining audiences. We are doing our best to continue this practice using the tools we have while regrettably not being able to come together for actual performances. We are also making direct calls to our donors and funders and subscribers as well. We have a full team of dedicated staff members in our Development, Box Office and Subscriptions, and Marketing departments who are reaching out daily to different segments of our audience. Our Education department is contacting Theater School parents and students, and members of the Artistic and Production departments are reaching out to the directors, designers, actors and commercial partners that we work with to give as much information as we can about our current state. Right now, with the news changing moment to moment and the future uncertain, it seems imperative to keep lines of communication as open as possible. No one knows how long this current environment will last and so we need to be in constant touch with all our constituents.
As Producing Artistic Director and a Director of some of Paper Mill Playhouse shows, you wear many hats. Tell us a little about how you are able to juggle your roles at the theatre.
I think that one of the best things about my job is the many hats I have to wear. It means that no two days are ever the same and there are always new challenges to solve and new things to learn. As the Producing Artistic Director, I focus on keeping the mission and vision for the theater in mind at all times. That involves everything from choosing the season, hiring the creative teams, casting the shows, working with the Marketing Department to develop messaging to sell the shows and offering support to all the visiting artists who come to Paper Mill to create these productions. I am also responsible, along with members of the artistic department, for finding the new shows to produce. That means attending workshops and readings, looking at new scripts and eventually developing relationships with the authors and commercial producers attached to those pieces so that we can bring those new works to our stage. I also work closely with our Education Department and am heavily involved with our Summer Musical Theater Conservatory program, which has launched some incredibly talented performers. When I am directing a show for Paper Mill, my focus is much more narrow. I am concentrating on that particular piece and trying to get every aspect of it right from the design elements to the casting to the actual staging of the show. I am using all of the experience I have gained through my many years in this business to try and create the best piece of theater I can.
Paper Mill Playhouse has become widely recognized as an incubator for shows that go on to be produced on Broadway and beyond. What are some of the challenges of bringing these hits to the Millburn stage?
We have been incredibly lucky to have collaborated on some spectacular world premiere pieces. In the last 10 years we have produced over 15 world premieres, working with the top talent in musical theater. When I look back at it, I am overwhelmed by the list of shows: Newsies, Honeymoon in Vegas, A Bronx Tale, Bandstand, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Sting, Half Time, to name a few, and creatives like Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz, Jason Robert Brown, Jerry Zaks, Chazz Palminteri, Robert De Niro, Sergio Trujillo, Andy Blankenbuehler, Kathleen Marshall, Glenn Slater, Jerry Mitchell and the list goes on and on. And, we have had great partnerships with Disney Theatrical, the Dodgers, Hal Luftig, Tom Smedes, The Araca Group and many others, but there are several challenges with bringing these shows to Paper Mill. Since we don't have a Second Stage, any new piece we take on has to be ready to go right into our mainstage season, which means a fully realized production in a 1,200-seat theater. The number of shows that are at that point in their development is small to begin with, and then you have to weigh their artistic content to determine whether it seems like a good fit for the Paper Mill audience. If you can check each of those boxes, the next biggest challenge seems to be the calendar. Lining up the Paper Mill production calendar with the personal and professional calendars of the necessary creatives is often the toughest hurdle. Everyone is working on a multitude of shows at the same time, and aligning all those schedules is a big battle. Once we identify the right project for our theater and then get a calendar in place, all of the other pieces of the puzzle usually seem to fall together quite quickly.
You have an incredible team at Paper Mill Playhouse. How are they are working together now to keep the theatre one of New Jersey's top entertainment venues?
I have to agree with you that the Staff, Crew and Board of Trustees at Paper Mill are among the best I know. We just completed a Strategic Plan for the organization which was an in-depth look at how the business model has been working through these last 10 years of success while also identifying areas of potential growth and dreams for the future. Paper Mill is celebrating 81 years as one of the country's most important regional theaters. Our goal has always been to provide the highest quality of entertainment to our audience by collaborating with top-notch artists. We thought we had a pretty clear path laid out for ourselves looking toward the next few years until just a few weeks ago when the world turned upside down. But our community is a strong one, and by community, I mean the immediate Millburn-Short Hills, the state of New Jersey, the whole tri-state area and indeed the arts community at large. Paper Mill has survived floods, fire, wars, near financial ruin and now we are dealing with a new chapter of life and so we will adapt, as we always have.
Your education programs have touched the lives of countless people who wish to pursue a career in the performing arts. What piece of advice can you share with aspiring performers who are looking to build a bright future?
I am so in love with the work that is done in our Education department. Our programs touch over 40,000 students across the state of New Jersey every year. That's an astounding accomplishment. We have so many programs that allow students of all ages to experience the arts in our theater, in their classrooms and by supporting the work that their individual schools are doing. Paper Mill even just opened a new studio space in downtown Millburn and will be ready to start additional classes there once we can! For any young person wishing to have a career in the arts I would say, follow your passion. You really need to have an insatiable desire to have a successful career in the arts. It is not a casual commitment. It takes 100% of your time and energy to deal with the many ups and downs associated with a life in the arts, but the rewards are unlike anything else.
Wow! You have just announced a great line-up of shows for the 2020/2021 Season. What would you like our readers to know about the season ahead?
I really think next year's lineup includes something for everyone. We are so excited to be opening the season with Clue directed by Casey Hushion. Based on the 1985 film and inspired by the popular board game, it is a hilarious whodunit that will keep everyone laughing and guessing right up until the final moment. just saw the production Casey directed at Cleveland Play House, which starred many of my favorite Paper Mill alumni, so I know it will be a killer show! For the holidays, I am thrilled to be directing The Sound of Music. This will truly be an evening the entire family will enjoy with one of the best scores and most inspirational stories ever written. I'm really looking forward to directing this show for the first time. Following the New Year we are honored to be partnering with Disney Theatrical Group to produce Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida, which will be directed by Schele Williams and choreographed by Camille A. Brown, with a new book by David Henry Hwang. The show will be reimagined for the 21st century but of course keeps the award-winning score and timeless characters. t premieres at Paper Mill and then embarks on a national tour. In the spring we will be producing The Wanderer, which tells the story of Dion DiMucci fromDion and The Belmonts, directed by Kenneth Ferrone and choreographed by Sarah O'Gleby. Due to the effects of COVD-19 we were unable to produce this show during our 2019-2020 season. It was such a popular title among our subscribers and single ticket buyers and we are so happy to be able to include it next season. Finally, just in time for summer, we will be producing Bruce, a world-premiere musical based on the memoir The Jaws Log by screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, about the making of that iconic film and its young director, Steven Spielberg. 'm honored to have Donna Feore, whose productions at Canada's Stratford Festival have been so acclaimed, come to Paper Mill to direct and choreograph this blockbuster premiere, which is a co-production with our colleagues at Seattle Rep.
Theater professionals have come together in incredible ways to care for their community during the Covid-19 outbreak. What are a few of these initiatives you have admired?
I am so impressed with how artists are responding to this crisis. I love what our friend Laura Benanti has done, creating a platform for high school students to showcase their talent even though their school productions have been canceled. Rosie O'Donnell raised over half a million dollars with an online version of her television show, and Seth Rudetsky's Stars in the House has an incredible list of luminaries who are sharing their talent each day. But I am even more moved by the million little ways that individuals are using the internet in creative ways to share joy and hope through music and art. I've been tuning in for my dear friend Elena Shaddow's nightly impromptu recitals on Instagram and Facebook. Elena is a Paper Mill treasure and a Jersey resident, and she's been bringing respite and joy to many fans while also asking for charitable support of her favorite theaters (she dedicated one evening to Paper Mill). It just goes to show that creativity can never be quarantined or stifled.
So many of us are looking forward to returning to Paper Mill Playhouse to see your shows after these difficult times have passed. In the meantime, how can patrons and interested persons support the Playhouse and show how much they care?
All arts organizations are hurting at this time. When we cannot gather people together, it makes it impossible to do what theaters like Paper Mill do so well. The best way to support Paper Mill at this very moment is to renew or purchase a subscription for next year. Subscriptions are the lifeblood of any regional theater and that is the money we count on to build each season. And, if you are so inclined and able, please consider making a tax-deductible donation, which helps us stay afloat in these trying times as well as to continue our education, outreach and access initiatives.
Anything else, absolutely anything you want BWW NJ readers to know.
Wash your hands, stay safe and healthy, know that Paper Mill is your hometown theater, and please be ready to return and enjoy some first-class entertainment when we can open our doors again! By the way, as of right now we still anticipate mounting our highly anticipated production ofSister Act as soon as safely possible. We had to suspend the show mid-process (it was supposed to open this week), but our dynamite cast is halfway rehearsed and is more than eager to resurrect it!
To learn about the 2020/2021 Season at Paper Mill Playhouse, please see their recent press release on Broadwayworld: /article/Paper-Mill-Playhouses-Announces-AIDA-CLUE-BRUCE-THE-WANDERER-For-2020-2021-Season-20200324.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mark S. Hoebee