Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Paul Brohan doesn’t have a dream project in mind for Hancher Auditorium, but he does like making dream projects come true for artists.

“I like to ask artists, ‘What is it you’d like to do that you’ve never been able to do before?’” says Brohan, programming director for Hancher. “From that broad conversation, we can begin exploring. I enjoy doing that with individual artists, but I also enjoy identifying parallels between varying artists and finding collaborative opportunities. The excitement comes from sometimes being able to pair them up in a way they didn’t imagine and that only someplace like Hancher might be able to make happen.”

Brohan, who started at Hancher in November 2017, says his journey to this point in his career may appear serendipitous, but he sees clear connections between each point. He studied theater and received his undergraduate degree at Eastern Michigan University and studied theater design during graduate school at the University of Michigan. While many of his fellow grad school students wanted to go into teaching, Brohan wanted to become a Broadway lighting designer. After graduation, he got a call encouraging him to apply for a new position as a lecturer and lighting designer at the University of Michigan–Flint, where he had previously worked.

“So even though I swore I wouldn’t teach, I went to Flint,” Brohan says. “They had this small but amazingly precious theater program. The next thing you know, I fell in love with teaching.”

He continued to do freelance work in lighting design, including a lot for dance productions. He was offered a position as the full-time general manager of a ballet company, which marked the start of his career in administration. From there, he spent time as the principal public events manager for the Department of Music at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and as producing director for the Theatre and Interpretation Center at Northwestern University.

“Over those years, I had really intense experiences in theater, dance, opera—basically all the forms of performing arts,” Brohan says. “I began to think about how I could bring all these experiences together.”

An opportunity came up at the University of Maryland, which was opening a new performing arts center. Brohan was hired as the associate director of cultural participation and later served as director of artistic initiatives at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

“I became a presenter. Most of the time before that, I was a producer, helping to create work,” Brohan says. “Presenting appealed to me because it allowed me to pull those threads together without having to choose between genres.”

Before coming to Hancher, Brohan spent several years as deputy director of programs at the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. While he says he learned a lot about funding artists, he missed direct contact with them.

“I was supporting artists in an important way, but I wasn’t having a direct impact on the creative process,” Brohan says. “That is important to me. When the position opened at Hancher, it seemed like a natural fit.”

Brohan says he was familiar with Hancher’s work and the impact it has had on the community and the wider performing arts world. After his first few months on the job, Brohan says one thing that particularly strikes him about the University of Iowa is the unique environment of collaboration and partnership.

“Those are buzz words on many university campuses these days, but the University of Iowa is truly living it,” Brohan says. “I’ve met so many amazing faculty members in programs across campus who are eager to share information and explore partnership opportunities, and that’s incredibly exciting.”

Chuck Swanson, executive director of Hancher, says Brohan embraces opportunities for collaboration.

“I love his enthusiasm for partnering with, at times, unusual suspects,” Swanson says. “A collaborative spirit is in Hancher’s DNA, and to lead those sorts of projects takes a lot of early creative thought.”

While much of the 2018–19 Hancher season was in the works when Brohan started, planning for the 2019–20 season is well underway.

“Hancher has a wonderful history and rich tradition that we want to recognize and maintain, yet we must also move forward,” Swanson says. “Paul will challenge us to think of new things and in new ways.”

Brohan says along with maintaining those traditions, there are a few themes he’d like to explore further through Hancher’s programming, including the relationship between established and emerging voices and visions.

“I think we have a richness of really mature voices across all disciplines of the arts at the same time as we also have these emerging voices and visions,” Brohan says. “How are the established creators of our society mentoring those who are finding their voices, and how are these emerging voices challenging our established voices? I think there’s some interesting work to be done there.”

Brohan says while his career began in theater, dance speaks to him the most. He attributes that to his background in lighting design, which is the application of light in space, while dance deals primarily with the movement of body in space. Perhaps because of this affinity for the discipline, Brohan also is interested in how Hancher can help highlight the way movement speaks to the 21st century.

“It’s interesting to me that a lot of contemporary theatrical work is incorporating movement to a much higher degree than in the past, and that a lot of contemporary movement now is incorporating spoken word and narrative,” Brohan says. “Why is that? Maybe we can explore and uncover that a bit.”

Hancher is no stranger to commissioning new works, and Brohan says he hopes to do more of it in the future—and if that includes making artists’ dream projects a reality, all the better.

“The idea of bringing new knowledge into the world at the University of Iowa is exciting,” Brohan says.