Live Arts: Fanny Pagé of The National Theatre School of Canada On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in Broadway, Theater or Live Performance Art
Be curious — Ask questions. Seek information. Read books and articles. Listen to podcasts. Continue to invest in your training. Challenge your biases or the way you always perform certain tasks. Try to understand another perspective than yours. Remain curious. This is how we keep learning and evolving.
As a part of our series about creating a successful career in theatre, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Fanny Pagé, CEO of The National Theatre School of Canada.
With over 20 years of experience in the live show industry, Fanny Pagé is currently the CEO of the National Theatre School of Canada. She has held various leadership positions in show production, operations and human resources — most notably at the renowned Cirque du Soleil and the prolific Franco Dragone Entertainment Group. Her dedication and work ethic has fostered her growth and trajectory in the theatre and performing arts industry, starting as an administrative assistant, and advancing to hold various management and executive positions. Her wide-ranging experience and passion for the National Theatre School of Canada has allowed her to successfully lead one of Canada’s most iconic arts institutions. Fanny has established herself as a thoughtful and collaborative leader, and is focused on bringing the School out of pandemic impacts and into a brighter and stronger future.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up on the South Shore of Montreal in the 80’s, in a typical middle-class family where both my parents worked full time. At home we spoke French, but my parents, who were bilingual, exposed us to a lot of movies and television in English. However, we were not introduced to live entertainment at a young age, despite the fact my parents had season tickets to a local theatre for as long as I could remember. The curiosity and interest towards live shows came late in my teenage years. It was only later in my career, while I was working within the recruitment department at Cirque du Soleil, that I was made aware of the different training programs that existed for various jobs in the theatre and live arts field. My career path might have been different had I been more aware of the various options while I was in high school.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I believe I ended up working in the entertainment field by chance. I graduated from university with a bachelor’s degree in arts, with a minor in psychology and a major in English literature. I was 23 and I had no idea what to do with the rest of my life. Fortunately, a friend-of-a-friend spoke to me about an entry level position at Cirque du Soleil. He knew the person who was hiring and referred me for the job. I was overqualified for the tasks the job required as it was not related to any of my fields of study, but I was drawn to the iconic organization which was quite notorious in Quebec at the time. I got the job and the rest is history!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It is almost impossible to narrow it down to a single person. As the saying goes, it takes a village. So many of my managers, colleagues, friends and family members have been helpful in shaping the person I am today and influencing the professional choices I have made.
About a year ago, a job opportunity arose unexpectedly — it was where I am now, at the National Theatre School of Canada. Instinctively, I didn’t consider it, thinking I wasn’t ready and that the timing wasn’t right. After a few months, the nagging feeling that I was perhaps missing an opportunity persisted. I decided to give my mentor, Louise Murray, a call. Louise is an executive in the entertainment industry, a former colleague, and my go-to person when I need honest professional advice. I knew that she would listen and candidly share her thoughts. Her guidance allowed me to see the situation more clearly and pushed me to seize the opportunity. I am not sure I would be in the position I am in today if it wasn’t for that nudge from Louise.
You probably have a lot of fascinating experiences. Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
In my previous job, I got to fly on a private jet on some occasions. At the time, I had only seen people travel like this in movies and imagined it was only accessible to rock stars! Suddenly, albeit briefly, I got to live the rock star lifestyle as part of the entourage of a person who was wealthy enough to own a jet. I know that this is the type of privilege so few experience. I feel incredibly lucky and blessed to have had the opportunity and, admittedly, I miss it sometimes!
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I know I’ve made a lot of mistakes when I first started out in the business — some funny, and some less funny. To be honest, I still make mistakes today. I don’t see mistakes as an entirely bad thing, either. They’re a part of growth and learning, and if you ever stop doing either of those things in a field you love, then you might not be where you’re supposed to be anyway. It’s important for a person in a leadership position to be able to show that human and vulnerable side. In my case, I know it helps staff and students relate to me in a more authentic and positive way, and conveys a message that it is also okay for them to try something and not get it right the first time. If you’re too afraid to fail, you’ll get stuck. It’s a leader’s responsibility to ensure they create and foster a safe environment for people to experiment freely, make mistakes, and learn from them.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
My greatest professional challenge to this day is the role I currently hold at the National Theatre School of Canada. As CEO, my role is to oversee the overall operations of the organization in harmony with its mission, and to propose projects to the Board of Directors and the Canadian theatre community. Among these projects, I am very excited to keep developing our Center for Art and Social Innovation. There is much to repair and rebuild following the pandemic, and I believe the Center and the National Theatre School of Canada plays such an important role. Through the various initiatives of the Center, our intention is to foster access to theater, to build bridges between artists and communities, and to encourage artistic practice for wellness, social and mental health.
You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of rejection, lack of support, or failure?
I truly believe that there is no such thing as rejection, there is only redirection. It might sound corny, but when a door closes, another one opens not too long after, often offering better possibilities than the previous one.
Words of advice I would share is: try to learn as much as you can from that prospect that didn’t quite yield the anticipated results as you would from one that was successful.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in the live performance industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
The show must go on! Thus, it is easy to get caught up in the urgency of a situation and lose a sense of perspective. Early in my career, I kept hearing a mantra from a colleague, “We don’t save lives, we only do shows!” This has stayed with me to this day, and I still use it time and time to help defuse stressful situations at work.
Also, it is important to truly enjoy the work you do. This helps me get through the tougher times. You need to have that feeling of passion on a regular basis. It needs to cut through the noise of some of the other maybe mundane or stressful tasks that are part of being a professional. Life is simply too short to not do something you love on the regular.
Thank you for all that. This is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in Broadway, Theater or Live Performances” and why? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
1. Be curious
Ask questions. Seek information. Read books and articles. Listen to podcasts. Continue to invest in your training. Challenge your biases or the way you always perform certain tasks. Try to understand another perspective than yours. Remain curious. This is how we keep learning and evolving.
2. Be willing to embrace the unknown
Some people have a very definite career path in mind and set goals to reach their professional ambitions. Others have a more organic approach, seizing each new job or professional challenge as they come along, ending up with a non-linear career path. I belong in that second category. Embracing the unknown helped me remain open to work opportunities as they arose. Although I was insecure about my atypical professional profile a few years ago, I now appreciate the value and richness of each experience and how it prepared me for the position I hold today.
3. Network, network, network!
More than in any other field I have encountered, who you know makes a true difference while working in live entertainment. People hire or recommend the people they know and like. So, make sure to also be kind! Go to events. Network online. Challenge yourself to talk or write to people, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
4. Ensure the spotlight shines on the talented people that surround you
I find it extremely gratifying to see people around me grow and take on responsibilities. When working on a project, my ultimate goal is to leave people and processes in better shape than when I found them. I try to shine the light on a motivated staff member who just delivered a key project, give advice to a team member who is stuck with a problem, or ensure a colleague is included in a team activity where I know they’ll learn a lot and make an impact.
5. Remember you only do shows for a living (and don’t save lives)
As mentioned earlier, when you work in show business, there is never a dull moment, and you need to deliver a show on stage at the end of the day. So many situations and problems arise that seem insurmountable at first glance, and each person’s tolerance level to the unexpected varies greatly. I think it is key to take a step back in these moments to reframe the situation. I encourage each person to figure out and develop their own practice that will allow them to get the perspective required to get through these challenging moments. An image that comes to mind is the safety protocol prior to air travel: “In case of an emergency, put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others.” It isn’t selfish to take care of yourself, it is necessary!
For the benefit of our readers, could you describe how the skill-sets you need in a theater performance are different than the skill-sets you need for TV or Film?
There will, of course, be variable skill sets that are beneficial for specific parts of the industry. I think the common thread, though, is passion. Anyone who decides to take the leap into theatre, TV or film is ultimately following a passion — often one that developed and was nurtured from a young age. The passion to do art in any form needs to be unwavering, and that can be incredibly hard to sustain. Those who do are the ones that not only find success in their own ways, but are the actors, performers, artists and operators that make up the fabric of the shows, movies and performances audiences love (and may aspire to be one day!)
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
With the National Theatre School’s Center for Art and Social Innovation, I would love to inspire a movement where we all move towards a theatre where space and resources are shared equitably, where stories are heard and woven together, and where the practice of art contributes to a healthier, happier and more united world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
On my first trip to New York City, I got to see RENT. I was a student back then, and the ticket lottery was the only way I could afford a seat to see the show. I was transformed by it and ended up learning the words to all the songs and seeing the show each time I went to NYC after that. The words “no day but today” still ring true today as they did back then, and have been a personal mantra of mine since the first time I saw the show. I don’t think I realized before this interview how this quote relates to my career path and how, unconsciously or not, it guided me through various professional opportunities. It all goes back to embracing the unknown and the chances that come your way unexpectedly, as they often lead to experiences that go beyond anything you could have planned or expected.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Theatre and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to have lunch with Ryan Reynolds, a fellow Canadian. Ryan did not attend the National Theatre School, but I would love the opportunity to tell him more about the School and the ways in which it serves the evolving needs of Canadian theatre. I would then try to explain to him how much of an impact he would have by creating an endowment fund at the School, instead of purchasing a hockey franchise in Ottawa 😉
How can our readers continue to follow your work online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!