Meet Our Member of the Week: Paul Hunter

May 31, 2024

Paul Hunter found his way to production management through a love of technical theater and problem-solving. His early career was spent in scenery and automation construction, which evolved into technical project management. That field provided him the opportunity to work for over a decade with Disney Cruise Lines' new show and ship production. As the Special Projects Coordinator for Spoleto Festival USA for 17 seasons, he provided technical and logistic support for 10 venues and countless performances. Intermixed in this time, he spent years touring as a rigger or props carpenter with Broadway productions and building touring sets with Worklight Productions. He moved to Ann Arbor in 2012 and took a position at the University of Michigan as the Master Carpenter in the Power Center Scene Shop for the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance. As his young family grew, this was a perfect fit for him. He loves building things with his hands and working with students to learn the craft. In 2019, he was selected to be the next production manager at UM, filling the huge shoes left by a celebrated retiree who had been in the position for 20 years.  In UM’s production season, they support 9 fully produced productions for the departments of Opera, Theatre & Drama, Dance, and Musical Theatre. University Productions has a full time seasonal staff of 26, 60 student employees and 100's of students per semester. Paul is very proud of the production work that they do here and he thinks their staff, students, and faculty are among the best in the world. #GOBLUE!

Get to know him more below!


Tell us a bit about yourself! As live entertainment technicians, we always talk about our work. But who are you, outside of your work in live entertainment? 

My wife and I are busy parents to two amazing kids. My son is 15 and just finishing his first year of high school. He is active in Scouting, and I enjoy camping with him and his troop every month, as well as helping behind the scenes as an assistant scout leader. My daughter is 10 and finishing 4th grade. She is an active horseback rider and we volunteer at the equine rescue where she takes lessons. I also play the Tuba in both a community concert band and other smaller ensembles. I enjoy the outdoors, home improvements, building tree houses, walking the dog, Euchre, and helping out friends and family on their projects.  


What sparked your interest in Production Management?

I have always been interested in the many aspects of production. My grandmother was a seamstress and home economics teacher, and also loved taking me to community and regional theater which started my interests. My dad worked in television, so from an early age I got to see how the “behind the scenes” worked at a small local television station. In High School I first got involved in productions as a pit orchestra member when they needed someone to play tuba for Anything Goes. I remember thinking “Those performers look like they are having lots of fun up there” and decided to audition for the next production. Cast members were utilized to help complete the scenery and lighting, and although I continued to perform throughout high school, working on the production elements quickly became my favorite part of the process. Ultimately, the logistics and challenges of bringing a show to life, and coordinating a large team of collaborators is what led me to pursue Production Management.


USITT emphasizes collaboration across different disciplines in theatre. How do you collaborate with other members of a production team, such as designers, actors, and directors, to achieve a cohesive production? 

I aim to provide the necessary support to help everyone achieve their goals. I’ve worked hard to clarify expectations for all team members and ensure that everyone, students, staff, and guests alike, knows how we can support each other through the process. Although this has led to an increase in meetings, we've found that having these regular check-ins with the creative team during the design process specifically has helped keep our productions on track. I want to facilitate early and frequent communication so that the flow of information between all parties is smooth, especially when we are trying to solve a problem or coming up with creative solutions. 


Do you have a favorite project you’d like to tell us about? 

One milestone project that I often think about was the launching of two ships for Disney Cruise Lines, the “Dream” in 2010, and the “Fantasy” in 2012. I was the senior project manager for our company, and was hired to consult on the planning of the Walt Disney Theatre, the production design process, and ultimately the theater’s commissioning and production installation of all shows in the theater.  This was a huge undertaking, where I got the chance to live in Germany and on the ship, work with cutting-edge systems, and lead a crew of amazing hardworking people, who I consider close friends. I am proud of all the hard work that went into making those shows happen and am thankful for all the opportunities that working with Disney Cruise Lines provided me. 


Your bio says you’ve worked in so many different places and on different types of live entertainment! Are there things all types of live entertainment have in common, from cruise ships to festivals, to theatre?

There are many similar things across all of these forms of live entertainment, but the things I find the most consistent are the people. I’ve worked with people from all over the world, with varied backgrounds and cultures, and once we’re in the venue, much of that falls away and everyone is focused on doing what needs to be done to create the best production possible. Simply by approaching any project with a positive, “can-do” kind of attitude, although it sounds cliché, can make all the difference to the success of the team and the project. From cruise ship installs to summer festivals, to a full season of theatrical shows or a national tour, that attitude can propel a team beyond any obstacle.


What are some must-have skills/qualities for a successful production manager?

In my opinion, a Production Manager must:

  • Be an excellent communicator - facilitating dialogue and connecting people are core aspects of the job.  
  • Be able to delegate and prioritize - recognizing workload and establishing healthy boundaries can make or break you and the people you work with.
  • Possess the ability to guide the process - we all work hard to achieve the dreams of the creative team, but there are times that the dreams need a reality check, and doing that in a way that is transparent and collaborative is high on my list of priorities. 
  • Be flexible - there is a lot of change in this business, so flexibility within a process is crucial.
  • And finally, have the ability to absorb, consider, and respond to challenges that arise.
  • All of these skills are very important to success in any management role. 


What do you consider the most rewarding aspect of being a production manager? Conversely, what are some of the biggest challenges you face in this role? 

I find the collaborative process of production management to be the most rewarding. I enjoy working with directors, designers, managers, and makers to come up with creative solutions that work for the unique situation. There never seems to be enough money or time on a project. Whether a show has a $5 budget or a $5 million budget, theater folks are always looking for a way to stretch every penny and get more bang for the buck.
I find the most challenging part of my position is having to say no. I love to be the person who helps to make the impossible happen, but setting and enforcing boundaries and parameters is a necessary responsibility and the mark of a good production manager.  


Nearly all of us have worked with production managers before, but so few of us get to see the ins and outs of what you do! What might your day-to-day on a given project look like?

The short answer is - my day is full of EMAILS and MEETINGS. There is a lot to juggle in this position. Here at The University of Michigan, we fully produce 9 mainstage productions in three different venues every season with a full-time seasonal staff of 26 professionals, 60 student employees, and 100’s of student performers and crew members. Keeping all the teams organized and on track means constant communication and bouncing between projects and objectives. It is often challenging to balance the time spent in meetings with the time needed to accomplish the tasks that come out of each meeting. But when things are in full swing, it’s very rewarding to see it all come together smoothly. I often joke that if I’m doing my job well, nobody notices—it just all happens. 


USITT offers numerous resources and opportunities for professional development. Can you share how being a member has benefited your career and artistic growth? 

The networking opportunities USITT has provided have led to valuable reconnections and collaborations with colleagues I have known for 25 years, as well as brand-new connections. Exposure to new equipment and vendors at the annual conferences keeps me up-to-date with the latest technology, while recruitment opportunities have helped build strong production teams. USITT’s training sessions keep me current with industry trends, and participating in programs like the Resume Doctor and the Gateway Program allows me to give back and support young theater-makers. Additionally, our students benefit from classes and the expo floor, gaining hands-on experience and industry insights. USITT provides unique resources, connections, and opportunities for continuous professional development and giving back to the theater community.


Are you working on any projects right now that you’re excited about?

I often say that my favorite project is the one I am working on right now, and that holds true as I look forward to the possibilities of what is yet to come and new collaborators with interesting and unique perspectives. We are currently in the middle of design meetings for our first 4 productions in the fall, each one very different, and many creative team members and productions that I haven’t worked with or on before.