Mr. Smiles: Paramount boss heads for the stars

As he does countless times a day, Chad Hershner grabs a hardhat and speedily strides the short distance from The Paramount Theater's temporary Water Street offices to the theater itself. Ducking behind the mural-festooned plywood barrier– now practically a historic fixture on the Downtown Mall– The Paramount Theater's executive director enters the bare-bones space slated to become the box office.

He runs into Sheldon Anderson, president of the Paramount's Board of Directors, who beams and reports, "The fabric is being hung in the lobby– it's just beautiful!"

With less than a month to go until the Paramount's December 15 grand opening, Hershner, wearing a striped shirt and an almost manic smile, is not just in the Hook's hot seat. He zips through the theater, abuzz with more than 80 workers plastering, framing, wiring, installing– not a slacker in sight. The smile never leaves his face.

"What's exciting," gushes Hershner, "is at this point you come every half hour, and it's different."

Hershner made his Charlottesville debut almost four years ago after raising $17.3 million for the restoration of the Strand Capitol Performing Arts Center in his hometown of York, Pennsylvania.

He learned about the Paramount position when he happened to walk by the York theater's fax machine just as the job announcement came rolling across the circuitry.

"Everyone said 'Charlottesville! Wow– what a great place,'" he recalls, "It just seemed like a perfect fit."

That was August 2000. By January 2001, Hershner was busy consulting with the Paramount's board and setting up focus groups to determine how best to capitalize on the long-dark Paramount's potential. He was also grappling with the public perception that, like Bodo's on the Corner, the Paramount, bought in 1992, might never open. He says people used to ask him if being executive director was a fulltime job.

Under Hershner's guidance, however, the Paramount project expanded from a $6.6 million stabilize-the-building endeavor to a $14 million vision of a state-of-the-art entertainment and educational venue.

Of the shows slated for the Paramount's first season, Hershner is particularly excited about the special preview being staged for the construction crew on December 10 because he's grateful for their dedicated long hours. He's also looking forward to saxophonist David Sanborn and opera diva Denyce Graves.

What's on Hershner's agenda after the Paramount's registers are ringing? "Vacation," he says. "I'm just going to take some time and chill out."

Then it's off to New York to plan the Paramount's 2005-2006 season.

But all that's in the future. Today Hershner's focus is ensuring the curtain rises for Tony Bennett on December 15.

"Hopefully, Bodo's won't open on December 14," he jokes. "Our goal is to beat Bodo's."

Name: Chad Hershner

Age: 32

Why here? I moved to Charlottesville in January 2001 when I was hired as the Executive Director of The Paramount Theater.

Worst about living here? Is there a worst thing? Charlottesville has so much to offer. It's a small town with a big-town feel.

Favorite hangout? ACAC. I need my workout every day. or else I'm really cranky.

Most overrated virtue? Fortitude. No one should go it alone. No matter how strong or courageous you might be, you always need the help and support of others.

People would be surprised to know? For fun, I used to be an Elvis impersonator and perform at birthday parties.

What would you change about yourself? My height. I'd love to be taller to have a greater sense of perspective.

Proudest accomplishment? Playing a small role in working with the community to bring The Paramount back to life.

People find most annoying about you? My eternal optimism. I can find something positive about every situation.

Whom do you admire? Walt Disney. For his vision, creativity, and sense of passion.

Favorite book? Goodnight Moon

Subject that causes you to rant? Bad customer service. I am the world's biggest customer service fanatic.

Biggest 21st century thrill? That every day is different and offers endless possibilities

Biggest 21st century creep-out? That people are losing touch with their imaginations

What do you drive? 2002 Ford Ranger

In your car CD/tape player right now? I keep my CD changer full at all times. Right now I have Josh Groban, Dave Matthews Band, Linda Eder, show tunes, and Denyce Graves.

Next journey? New York City in January to attend the Performing Arts Presenters Conference and start planning the 2005-2006 Paramount season

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Always talking too much in school

Regret? Not taking time to enjoy the moment. Life passes by so quickly, and we do not take the time to appreciate and enjoy those things that truly make us happy.

Favorite comfort food? French fries

Always in your refrigerator? Mountain Dew. Have to "do the Dew" first thing in the morning

Must-see TV? Alias

Favorite cartoon? The Far Side

Describe a perfect day: Sleep in until 10, spend the day in the outdoors, and then have quality time with family and friends.

Walter Mitty fantasy? Being a Secret Service agent assigned to the Presidential detail

Who'd play you in the movie? Matt Damon

Most embarrassing moment? It hasn't happened to me yet– thank goodness!

Best advice you ever got? My mother used to always tell me, "Shoot for the moon because if you miss the moon, Chad, you will still be among the stars."

Favorite bumper sticker? "My border collie is smarter than your honor student."

Chad Hershner

Chad Hershner


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