“My father left a quarter on the counter and I flipped the quarter and it came up heads, so I went to Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama for lighting design. I haven’t regretted it since. My decision has allowed me to make money and work in theater every day.”
Being responsible for the production details of seven shows produced in six weeks can be a daunting task. But Paul Moffitt, who is just wrapping up his first season at Upper Darby Summer Stage as Production Manager is unfazed. Compared to the many experiences he has had over the past years as lighting designer and production manager, Paul is well suited to take on the challenge serenely and with a very positive energy.
A flip of a coin
Paul graduated with a BFA in Technical Theater with an emphasis in Light Design from University of North Carolina Greensboro after beginning his college years at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama. How did he get into technical theater? By a flip of a coin.
“I was accepted for a full scholarship to Loyla University for acting,” says Paul who scored the plum roles of P.T. Barnum in “Barnum,” Bill Sikes in “Oliver” and Cornelius Hackl in “Hello Dolly” in high school productions. “I was the lead and I was the lighting designer so I knew exactly where to point the lights!”
Paul was also offered a full ride to Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama, the oldest conservatory training program in the United States, for lighting design.
“My high school counselor said I shouldn’t even apply to Carnegie Mellon, that my grades weren’t good enough. And they weren’t. But what she didn’t understand is that they were looking for someone with drive and experience. I had built a practically professional resume in high school. At that time I had already designed for places like the Georgia Shakespeare Festival and the Center for Puppetry Arts. And that’s what they were looking for.”
“My father left a quarter on the counter and I flipped the quarter and it came up heads, so I went to Carnegie Mellon. I haven’t regretted it since. My decision has allowed me to make money and work in theater every day.”
Extensive international travel meant unpredictable challenges
After college, Paul travelled extensively throughout the United States and Europe honing his technical theater skills. Many of his international experiences have prepared him to tackle any technical challenge with an almost Zen-like calm.
“I’ve been in all these different crazy situations, so there’s not really anything that’s going to faze me,” says Paul. He recalls one company he worked with in South Africa that produced festivals throughout Europe. “We were scheduled to produce in over 20 different venues, and I would coordinate the moves and set-ups for two to three venues each week. I’d have to get past the language barriers of different countries, the different technical needs that of each country, the power outputs, the labor laws, the different spaces, and coordinate it all so it ran seamlessly. That was graduate school and military training all at once.”
At one point he worked with the Pig Iron Theater Company while touring throughout Lithuania and Poland. “I built the entire show in a Russian communist shop in Lithuania in a week, and then took it on tour.”
While someone else would be incredibly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of production details to be dealt with during the Summer Stage season, Paul looks at it a bit differently. “When it comes to something like this, I just look at it as a series of things that need to be organized. My job is to be the grease and to make sure everyone has what he or she needs, and to put out fires. And I’m really good at putting out fires.”
The power of “Yes”
“Many people in my position are known for saying ‘no, can’t do it.’ I’ve always taken great pride in saying, ‘Yes, we’ll work something out.’ Even if my answer is ‘no,’ I say ‘yes, we’ll make something work.’ (laughs). It might not happen the way they anticipated it happening but I can see the vision in their head and I can make that happen.”
One of his most creative and inspiring experiences was working on a production of “Wandering Alice” by the Nichole Canuso Dance Company. The production was inspired by Alice’s “Adventures in Wonderland” and “The Windup Bird Chronicles” by surrealist novelist Haruki Murakami. The creative team converted Christ Church near 2nd and Market in Philadelphia into a performance space, a dreamlike landscape.
“Basically, the audience followed Alice through the space, through a maze, actually. It was very interactive. We did the show a couple times a day and it was quite wonderful. It was meaningful to me because I had a hand in actually sculpting the production,” adds Paul. “Putting the content together and being a part of the collaborative process.”
The Yin and the Yang – Technical vs. Artistic
The oldest in his family of 13 brothers and sisters and cousins who grew up “hippie commune style,” Paul spent his first eight years in Spain and then moved with his family to London, New York and then onto Atlanta.
He admits his parents are responsible for his falling in love with theater at a very early age. “My parents would have us make a show when we were kids,” says Paul. “We would work on it a couple weeks. We’d make all the sets and everything. I’d direct it and write it and then we’d perform it. We’ll steal all the liquor and then sell it to them during intermission to make our money!”
“The favorite show that I ever produced as a kid was based on “Clue,” the movie version with Tim Curry. But we created it based on our house and our parents. All the kids played the various roles and we had guest appearances by the adults.”
Paul is both technical and artistic. He claims he gets those traits from his father and his mother. “My father is a very physical hands-on type person. He makes flamenco guitars, airplanes, robots. He writes poetry in Spanish, he knows all the math, the electricity, he does everything. He is very Renaissance too. He plays the flamenco guitar in addition to making them. He’s a great guy. And my mother is an artist. My whole family is from an artist colony.”
“I kind have the best of both worlds in me where I have the technical side from my father and the artistic side from my mother. I remember when I was as young as three years old in Spain, my father would have me hold together the wires while he was making alarm systems and circuit boards. And then I would go off to be with my mother and she would be painting.”
He is very satisfied with the path he is following. “I’m creating art and it’s very technical. So it meets both of those sides of me.”
Acceptance = Learning
Paul appreciates that the theater world is accepting and has the opportunity to witness the spirit of acceptance at Summer Stage. “My family is very open-minded and very diverse and so there are people from all origins have married into my family. There are Hispanics and African-Americans. Growing up, I was always an outsider. And I always understood outsiders.”
His best defense for being on the outside of the status quo was learning. “I read like a maniac. I’m always trying to gain knowledge. So learning is a way to make you strong and make you deal with things.”
To take the time to learn something everyday is the most important lesson he wants to pass on to his young daughter. “Life is learning. And that came directly from my parents. Being bored was a four letter word. There should be no point where you stop and say to yourself, ‘Oh I don’t need to listen to that person or I don’t need to do this,’ because you’re always learning. And if haven’t learned something then you’ve just wasted your day.”