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Theater Director Speaks at Northwestern Days After Winning a Tony

By Jacob Nelson

Last week was a busy one for Mark Hoebee. The producing artistic director of Paper Mill Playhouse flew from New York to Chicago so he could speak at the MSLCE speaker series event. But before that, he and his theatre company won a 2016 Regional Theater Tony Award.

“It’s crazy, it’s been a really emotional week,” Hoebee said with a smile as the speaker series event began last Thursday. He called winning a Tony “something you dream about,” and pointed out that when he first began working at Paper Mill the company was on the verge of going out of business. “It’s kind of mind blowing.”

But as he explained throughout the event, Hoebee’s career has been filled with job opportunities that he approached uncertainly and left triumphantly. First, he performed in musicals, then he choreographed them, then he directed them, and eventually he was hired at Paper Mill in their administrative office, where he was in charge of pretty much everything else that went into putting a show together.

“I worked in artistic administration even though I never took an administration class,” Hoebee said.

He very literally learned on the job — he recalled struggling to decipher the dollar amounts on a report being discussed during his first budget meeting.

“I sat in a meeting and looked at the budget, and I couldn’t find the numbers,” he said, “but I was a sponge and I was open.”

Hoebee attributes much of his success to a combination of blind optimism and welcome honesty.

“A lot of my success is because I didn’t really know what I was doing,” he said, “I didn’t know to be afraid.”

Much of what Hoebee learned about how to work well with others came from his experience directing shows at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. At first, he recalled being nervous about not having all the answers.

“Then I realized the greatest strength as a director is to be decisive even if you don’t know if it’s right,” and to be willing to listen to others and open to changing your mind later. “I’m never going to have all the answers, and I tell people that.”

Towards the end of the event, Hoebee attributed his success to another factor: his time at Northwestern.

“Northwestern was so important to me and really totally shaped my life,” he said. “The relationships that were built here for me filtered out across the country… I would not be where I am if not for Northwestern.”

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