The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Sunday Profile

January 22, 2012

Theater general manager shares love for perfoming arts

Pamela Paul

— Pamela Paul’s circuitous path to her new post as general manager of Greenbrier Valley Theatre has a certain sense of inevitability to it. With an impressive background in both business and theater, Paul says she finds great satisfaction in facing the challenges of managing West Virginia’s official professional theater.

“There’s always so much to be done in any theater organization,” Paul says. “It’s fun to really dig in and see where I can help.”

As the theater’s general manager, Paul supervises all of GVT’s nonproduction functions. She explains that includes serving as house manager during performances, overseeing the facility, coordinating the marketing and fundraising arms of the theater and keeping control of its finances.

The Dallas native points out that, in a way, the work she is now doing at GVT was predicted back when she was in junior high school in Texas.

“They gave us a battery of tests intended to predict what career would be most suitable for each of us,” Paul recounts. “My test results showed that my aptitude and interest were equally strong in business and the arts.”

After earning degrees from the University of North Texas and Southern Methodist University, Paul left the state of her birth and launched her business career with Mc Kinsey & Company in Los Angeles.

“I kept getting promoted,” she says of her 10-year stint with the management consulting firm. “I was the first person in the company ever promoted to a consulting position from support staff.”

That job, Paul says, helped her hone the ability to come into a situation, analyze it quickly and recommend improvements and solutions to problems.

Serving as a senior executive in marketing and sales with American Express for the next 15 years, Paul felt the need to tack in a new direction.

“I really wanted to do something else,” she says.

That desire for “something else” led Paul to found the Abingdon Theater in New York City, serving as co-artistic director for the next several years.

“For about six years, I focused on acting almost completely, but in the last few years, I’ve combined business and acting,” she notes.

Paul’s original connection to the Lewisburg theater came through her acting. She met GVT’s artistic director, Cathey Sawyer, when Sawyer directed the play “Glory Girls” at Abingdon in New York. Paul began traveling to Lewisburg for the summer repertory season about 15 years ago.

Paul will be familiar to GVT audiences from her roles in a revue of Cole Porter’s music and a number of plays, including “The Pride of East Texas” and “Cemetery Club.”

“When I was here for summer rep, I always observed and gave Cathey input, so the general manager role is a natural step for me to take,” Paul says.

“Most of the people who work here at GVT are artists, and I am sure I’ll continue to consult with Cathey on various issues,” she adds. “I’m the new extra hand, so I’ll do whatever the theater needs me to do. I might recommend a play I’ve seen somewhere before, and I’ll help with casting sessions in New York and Memphis.”

On the financial side, Paul praises GVT’s long-time strategy of diversifying its revenue base — not falling into the trap of relying on a single funding source. By seeking and receiving funds from the state and county, the National Endowment for the Arts and gifts from individuals and businesses, as well as generating income from admission charges and rental fees, the theater finds itself with sound financial footing as it moves forward, Paul says.

“The theater has grown through its outreach into the community and its educational programs,” she notes. “We have an after-school theater arts program that draws students from several surrounding counties — even including students from Virginia. For our fall show, we have busloads of kids from all over the region coming here to watch matinees. I want to see us expand that even more, with students from farther away coming to the theater as well.”

Paul’s enthusiasm for community theater is contagious, as she says, “I really believe theater is one of those pursuits that bring people together. Storytellers have always brought a community together; sharing common stories makes people feel like they are part of a larger community.

“I would like to see everybody in the region excited about coming to this theater, knowing that a GVT performance is something that people just don’t want to miss.”

Paul is also enthusiastic about the natural beauty of the Greenbrier Valley.

“It’s gorgeous here,” she exclaims. “My husband and I have had a country place in the Berkshires for several years, and this area is very reminiscent of that. Your mountains — or I should say now, ‘our mountains’ — in West Virginia feel very familiar.”

Paul looks forward to a time later in the spring when her family — husband Douglas, three dogs and a cat — can join her here.

“One thing I haven’t done yet is go whitewater rafting,” she says with a laugh. “That’s my goal, now — to go whitewater rafting this spring.”

-----

Greenbrier Valley Theatre is located at 113 E. Washington Street in downtown Lewisburg.

In addition to professional theatrical productions, GVT hosts special musical events throughout the year, along with literary teas for both children and adults and an annual poetry reading. The newest addition to the theater’s offerings is the series “The Met: Live in HD” with 11 live transmissions of performances each season from The Metropolitan Opera.

For more information about GVT — including performance and event schedules — go to gvtheatre.org on the Web or call 304-645-3838 or 866-888-1411 (toll free).

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com

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