Helmer dives into Broadway, nonprofit realm

Making her Rialto debut, Diane Paulus wasted no time establishing herself as director of the first musical from the 2008-09 Broadway season to recoup.

“Directing on Broadway and being trusted with a musical, it was a very big deal for me as a woman,” she says.

Plays are one thing, musicals quite another. Paulus is very much aware that women who have directed recouped Broadway musicals belong to a pretty small club: Susan Stroman, Kathleen Marshall and Julie Taymor are among the few.

The fact that Paulus now runs a nonprofit theater may make her a singular sensation. She was recently appointed artistic director of the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass. While Paulus loves the nonprofit world, she also sees a big plus in having to think about the bottom line. “In institutional theater, the show can be thought of as a hothouse plant. We’re going to grow this one. If it doesn’t work, it’s OK; we’ve got the next one coming,” she explains. “But on Broadway you don’t do it unless you think it’s going to connect and make money, which means there is an audience. To me theater is completed by the audience.”

And the investors. “What has made me so happy about ‘Hair‘ recouping is that all those people who took a risk when the economy was crashing, they made their money back,” she says. “(Now) they’ll do it again.”

She doesn’t even mind when the budget affects creative decisions. “There’s always the moment that you have to cut back, whether the budget is $11 million or $5,000. It doesn’t diminish our artistic possibilities. It can fuel them,” Paulus believes.

In addition to “Hair” and her new ART responsibilities, Paulus has been busy restaging her Off Broadway hit “The Donkey Show” and directing Monteverdi operas at the Chicago Lyric Opera and the English National Opera, along with a musical version of David Lynch’s “Lost Highway” film at the London company.

IN A NUTSHELL

Job title: Theater director

Inspiration: “I want to do for ART what (g.m.) Theo Epstein did for the Red Sox.”

Career mantra: “I’m constantly saying to my staff, ‘Why not?’ ”

Leisure pursuit: “Hanging out with my two little girls.”

Philanthropic passions: “Marriage equality is pretty far up there and also ART, the theater I’m running.”

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