Hugh Hysell '88 BFA Theatre holding Tony Award

“I want to teach my students to say ‘yes.’ Life will give you opportunities, and we need to be open to that. If you say ‘no,’ this is your path that you decided on from the start then you might miss the opportunities. If you say ‘yes,’ there might be a very surprising and rewarding life for you in a profession that gives you great joy as an artist.”

Hugh Hysell (’88 BFA Theatre) knows all about saying “yes.” A two-time Tony-award-winning Broadway producer, Hysell has held several theatre roles, including actor (stage and television), director, marketer, event planner, and during the pandemic, heading up Broadway’s COVID-19 safety team.  

Now he’s teaching School of Theatre students how to prepare for a variety of careers through a course that he created called “The Business of Show.”  

The class takes students through developing a resume, researching different areas of the industry, creating a professional profile and database, developing an elevator pitch, and doing mock job interviews. One of the assignments is to create a budget:  

“You move to a city, and you throw spaghetti against a wall to see what sticks because you really don’t know what it’s like to live there. I ask students to research one of the hubs of entertainment and to learn everything they can. Where do actors live? How much is rent? Where do I find audition notices? How long is the commute from home? All the things you must know to be financially healthy.”  

A second research project focuses on jobs that are not performance related and maybe not even theatre jobs at all but are “theatre adjacent.” For that assignment, Hugh draws on an impressive roster of guest speakers from a network of School of Theatre alumni:  

“UNCG has been a great source of training for a lot of professionals who work at high levels in the industry. Guest speakers this semester include Actor David Epley (’90 BFA Theatre); Assistant Executive Director for the Eastern Region of Actors’ Equity Calandra Hackney (’00 BA Theatre); Talent Agent Jamie Harris (’89 BFA Theatre), Screenwriter and Playwright Ben Holbrook (year, BFA Theatre); and Film Director and Editor Thomas Mendolia (’12 BFA Theatre). The goal is to show students that if they go down one path and find it’s not for them, but they still have this great passion for the theatre, they can transition into a different path that might be a great fit for their skillset and personality.” 

Hysell’s own path started in Rhode Island where he discovered his love of the theatre in high school:  

“I knew this was going to be my career. I was really into lighting design and set design and performance. I also loved puppetry. I decided to pursue an acting major and sought out a program where I could receive great training. That’s how I found UNCG. It had and I believe it still does have the best performance training for undergraduates.”  

After graduation, Hysell acted in regional theatre around the country, then moved to New York when he was twenty-five. Feeling a little “burned out,” Hysell thought it might be time to follow in his mother’s, father’s, and brother’s footsteps into academia and pursued an MFA. But becoming a teacher had to wait. Hysell’s path took an unexpected turn during the keynote address at a meeting of the Southeastern Theatre Conference:  

“It was a lightbulb moment. I was listening to the speaker when I realized I’m not supposed to be a teacher. At least, not now. I’m supposed to be doing what that guy is doing. And that was general management.”  

Hugh took an internship at a Broadway general management company. Five weeks into the internship he was offered a full-time job. From there, Hysell directed a show in the Fringe Festival that did so well he knew that it needed to move into a permanent venue for a run. The show received great publicity on the front page of the New York Times Arts and Leisure section, but there was no money to advertise, so Hysell sought advice:  

“And just like that, I’m a marketer. We kept the show going for another four months, then I went to work for the person who gave me the marketing advice. Three years later, I bought the company and Hysell Marketing was born, and I worked on two hundred Broadway and Off-Broadway shows.” 

During that time, Hysell started raising money for Broadway shows. He produced five shows and won a Tony for two of them: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and The Inheritance. He also went back to performing. He leads the professional master class training program at Open Jar Institute and is the Associate Artistic Director for Open Jar Institute and Open Jar Studios. He’s the creator of The Men Event, dedicated to bringing people together for social, personal, and business connections, and he’s also producing Broadway Shark Tank: 

“I’m doing a little bit of everything and loving it all!”  

Now, Hysell is helping the next generation find that same success and satisfaction. The course is in its second semester. It’s been successful in terms of numbers—filling quickly both times. Even though it was designed for students in the School of Theatre, it has attracted students from across the University looking to fulfill a General Education public speaking requirement:  

“The class is a valuable resource no matter what a student’s career goals are. We are developing tools necessary in acting but helpful in other professions. It’s interesting,” says Hysell, “many of the non-majors are now thinking they might like to have a career in the business side of theatre. I think we’re inspiring some future entertainment workers!”  

Hugh traces the roots for “The Business of Show” back to Greensboro:  

“I had great professors at UNCG. They trained us to be artists. They said you’re going to have a career. You need to move to a big city, and you need to save money. They shared a lot about how to get there. I’m hoping to expand that with how to keep going once you get there.” 

Story by Terri W Relos

Photo credit: Greg Salvatori