For Paul Chandler, all of Memphis is a stage. The executive director of the Germantown Performing Arts Center has made a career of bringing talent to the city and helping to showcase the homegrown sort, as well.
Born and raised in Memphis, Chandler attended Christian Brothers High School and began working at his father’s advertising agency, Chandler Ehrlich, at a young age.
“I thank him for that because it created a hell of a work ethic. I’ve done just about everything from taking art directors’ work to clients to running errands to filing more paperwork than I ever want to file from 14 years old to 18,” he said.
He got into film production, both in and out of town, working a variety of positions. By his count, he worked on 353 projects in roughly seven years. These included corporate videos, television commercials and music videos.
“I would drive to Nashville often. I’d stay 10 days with friends; I’d work on a country music video every day for 14 to 20 hours a day, come home and sleep for two weeks, and then go back.”
He enjoyed the work but became burned out at a young age due to the grueling hours and pace of the industry.
“In that time, I learned a skill that I use every day in the entertainment industry,” he said. “I can talk to a grip and a gaffer and a loader on the loading dock or on the set and then, in the same breath, turn and talk to the CEO of a company or a superstar. I just learned how to communicate with all types of people.”
It would serve him well when, in 1995, he worked for Memphis in May, charged with the handling of the diplomatic and entertainment visitors from the honored country, Thailand. In addition to other duties, he transported and fed the 78-person Royal Thai Ballet, producing their two-day show, as well, which included building the risers and sets in the Cook Convention Center.
“I’ve never worked harder or longer. ... It about killed me. It was really, really challenging,” he said.
In an effort to find what his father called a “real job” as opposed to his fluid position as an independent contractor, Chandler said he opened up the paper and read a posting from the city of Germantown for the assistant to the director of the Germantown Performing Arts Center, a venue that had been open only two months and one which he had never heard of. It called for knowledge of sound, lights, production, marketing and other necessary skills.
“That’s me,” he said, and he was the youngest of almost 150 applicants.
He moved up quickly in the organization to the No. 2 position, where he stayed for seven years. When he left, it was to work again as a contractor as part of the team that created the Memphis Botanic Garden’s Live at the Garden concert series, as well as to work at Chandler Ehrlich in the Internet development department.
He took the success of the endeavor at the garden and spun it into a talent-buying venture called National Talent LLC, which had one client – Live at the Garden.
Chandler and partners rolled National Talent into Resource Entertainment Group to expand on the niche of booking corporate shows, casino entertainment and Memphis Grizzlies halftime shows. But he would only dip his toes in before GPAC called, asking him to be executive director after his old boss resigned. He declined but agreed to be the interim, which he did for nine months, working with the search committee to find a replacement before resuming work with his own company.
When they called again, in September 2012, Chandler sold his shares to his partners in REG and once again took the reins at GPAC. During his time as interim, he said, GPAC was in a bad situation financially and with the city and the GPAC board not on speaking terms.
“I felt like I helped facilitate communication between the two of them,” he said.
By the time he returned as executive director, he said things were “wildly different in that case. The board and the city had, and continue to have, an excellent relationship and mutual respect and admiration. GPAC is in a really good place right now.”
To further that feeling, he’s built on the variety of shows offered, adding the American Music Series, beginning with a sold-out Lyle Lovett show, and the Bluff City Jazz Project. Chandler is committed to getting more work and exposure for local artists.
He and his wife, cookbook author Jennifer Chandler, have two children, Hannah and Sarah, and he enjoys fly-fishing, having done so all over the country and abroad.
He’s worked in many capacities and on many stages across the entertainment landscape in Memphis and feels as though he’s found a home in the wings at GPAC.
“The underlying theme is that every day is different for me,” he said. “Maybe that’s part of my DNA or what keeps me excited. I couldn’t do just one task every day.”