Paul Tetreault ’84 has been a theater buff ever since he started acting in middle school. Today, he is executive director of one of the most important theaters in the country: historic Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.
Soon after graduating from Emerson, Tetreault realized administration was his true niche, so he enrolled in the graduate program in arts administration at Brooklyn College.
As executive director of Ford’s Theatre, Tetreault has seen the theater through a $25 million renovation, an overhaul of its artistic programing, and an expansion of its mission to include a focus on education. In 2009, he oversaw the Theatre’s reopening and the bicentennial celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birth with a performance and gala attended by President Obama and the First Lady and a host of celebrities and public figures.
Tetreault took a few minutes recently to talk about his career and his Emerson experience.
Q. What are you currently working on?
We are about to host the world premiere of Liberty Smith, a brand-new musical. It is a fun take on America during the Revolutionary War. I call it “Forrest Gump meets the American Revolution.” It’s a fun, family-oriented show with a great musical score and a history lesson, too. Besides that, we’ll be opening a new education and leadership center in February 2012, which will further explore Lincoln’s legacy in America today.
Q. Could you describe an experience at Emerson that shifted the course of your career?
I think producing the spring musical at Emerson my senior year showed me the path to what I really wanted to do. We put on Candide in the basement of Brimmer Street. I think it was at that moment that I realized producing was a skill set I was pretty good at it, and I enjoyed being able to create leadership for a group of artists to come together for a single project and make something spectacular.
Q. Do you have an example of how a classmate aided you with your career?
Tobie Stein ’79 went to Emerson about five years before I did. She also went to Brooklyn College for graduate school, like I did. We met when I got to Brooklyn College. She’s been influential and helpful to me throughout my career. She’s been a mentor, a reference, and has continuously supported me.
Q. Are you professionally connected to other Emersonians?
Yes. I’m connected through old school networks. I’m not on Facebook or LinkedIn, but I keep in touch with people by email and by phone, with both my former classmates and with people I’ve met throughout my career who also went to Emerson.
Q. What’s the single most important piece of advice you’d like to give to Emerson students?
Take advantage of every opportunity presented to you. Don’t think about being too tired or too busy. You’ve got to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. Networking is critical and so are internships. Every job I have gotten for the last 20 years, with the exception of the one I’m in today, came about from contacts I made through Emerson or through Brooklyn College. Taking advantage of internship opportunities will not only help you figure out what the path is that you might want to take; you will also find out those paths you absolutely do not want to take. When you take on these different experiences, they’ll help you formulate where you’re going.