Mark Hoebee might have won a Tony in this past week, but that didn’t stop him from visiting his alma mater to speak on Thursday.
Hoebee is the producing artistic director of Paper Mills Playhouse, which recently won the Regional Theatre Tony Award, joining the ranks of the Guthrie Theater, Steppenwolf Theatre Company and Lookingglass Theatre Company. Hoebee, who graduated from the School of Speech in 1982, spoke in Frances Searle Building as the May speaker for the Master of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises speaker series.
Since graduating, Hoebee has choreographed shows in Chicago, managed a theatre in New Jersey and appeared on Broadway. He told students about his career and what he does now: managing the business, collaborations and overall “voice” of Paper Mills Playhouse. Although the Tonys honored Paper Mills Playhouse this year, when Hoebee took over the theatre, it was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Before Hoebee was in the business of theatre administration, he was a performer. As a dancer in the School of Speech, he said that it was challenging to be a musical theatre actor on the acting track, since the Musical Theatre program wasn't established when he was an underclassman. Hoebee said that he felt that he was really at Northwestern for the extracurriculars.
After graduating, Hoebee worked as a choreographer in Chicago, before moving to New York to try to make it to Broadway. Hoebee said that he never had ambitions to be a “star,” but wanted to be in a chorus. His Broadway debut came as a “swing” (basically an understudy for all 23 characters) in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway in 1989.
Hoebee said that a lot of his success came from the fact that he didn’t know what he was doing. He said that this actually helped him in the long run because he wasn’t afraid of the ways things could go wrong. Soon he started choreographing, then directing, a job that he noted takes decisiveness.
Hoebee joined Paper Mill Playhouse in 2000, soon taking over as Artistic Producer. His job essentially involves deciding the “voice” of the theatre, and overseeing the education department. Almost immediately upon landing the position, Hoebee decided to change Paper Mill Playhouse’s unsuccessful business model. Instead of relying on subscribers for the majority of funds, the theatre participated in several enhancement deals, which involve a producer paying the theatre to help subsidize the premiere production.
Paper Mill Playhouse is the only regional theatre in the country to do four collaborations of this kind with Disney. They debuted The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Little Mermaid, High School Musical and Newsies.
“That relationship and that partnership was so spectacular, and we’re still in very close contact with them,” Hoebee said. “Relationships are such a big deal.”
One of Paper Mill Playhouse’s most recent projects was an enhancement deal of A Bronx Tale, based off of the film starring and directed by Robert De Niro (or just “Bob,” as Hoebee said). De Niro directed the production with four-time Tony winner Jerry Zakes.
Hoebee said he is proud his theatre’s accomplishments, and is excited (if a bit scared) for the future. But on Monday, he is back to work directing the season’s last show, West Side Story.