The quickly shifting reality of live theater has been a way of life for Paige Price.
The Philadelphia Theatre Company's newly appointed producing artistic director was one of Broadway's most durable dancers in Saturday Night Fever until a 2001 injury meant she would mainly be an actress. And in doing so at Theatre Aspen in 2007 during a production of The Last Five Years, she suddenly found herself acting as executive artistic director and getting the establishment out of debt. Plus taking a vice presidency with Actors' Equity Association.
Her Philadelphia appointment - announced this week and succeeding the 35-year tenure of Sara Garonzik - means giving up spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery but having a near year-round, locally based audience and a theater with running water. You heard that right. "It was the fanciest theater tent you ever saw," says Price of her Aspen venue, "but it was definitely seasonal."
Theater professionals hailed the appointment. "I have watched Paige's career progress from a Broadway leading lady and the national vice president of Actors' Equity Association, to the artistic director of the Theatre Aspen, where she totally transformed that struggling theater," said Todd Haimes, artistic director of New York's Roundabout Theatre. "I can't think of a more exciting choice to lead the Philadelphia Theatre Company...."
In a phone interview Saturday, Price, 52, admitted that, with an appointment so recent (she's still doing the Aspen job through March 31), she has yet to develop a vision for going forward with Philadelphia Theatre Company, whose current season was developed under Garonzik. Price talked about honoring the past and revitalizing the brand, but in a less guarded moment said, "I'm looking forward to seeing what I can get away with." She feels a greater sense of mission in the wake of the November election - which has come with lots of questions around arts funding.
"This is an opportunity to do some serious work that maybe has a bigger impact on the community and reaches into topics not often covered in summer theater," she said. "That's what's really appealing ... as well as to do serious work and reflect the voices of American artists. I'm aware of the artists in Philly. But my first marching order is to listen and learn."
Then, in another unguarded moment, she said, "I'm shooting for the moon."
She was credited with doing so in Aspen, though in a resort town that meant creating a first-class production of Les Miserables with extremely limited means. In Philadelphia, aiming high means keeping up with the artistically competitive smaller companies that have sometimes swept the Barrymore Awards. "They can be more nimble," she admitted, but added that her version of PTC won't be "your grandmother's theater."
Such idealism also comes with a practical side. Having begun ballet lessons at age 3 while growing up in Middlesex, N.J., she knew by age 4 that she would have a life in the theater. During backstage moments, she was always curious how any given theatrical mechanism worked, who did what, and how much it cost. With her position in Actors' Equity (which she will relinquish), she learned how to negotiate contracts. She's aware that PTC has sometimes been used as a trial ground in collaborations that can involve other regional theaters, as well as New York producers. "But I would choose my partners carefully," she says.
Perhaps most key - considering Philadelphia Theatre Company temporarily lost ownership of its Suzanne Roberts Theatre in 2015 due to financial shortfalls - is her fund-raising ability. In Aspen she increased revenue by 127 percent - while she was also keeping one foot in acting, having done the play Sex With Strangers at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts last year.
"I wish I could say that I had a master plan. My mother always warned me about being jack-of-all-trades and master of none," said Price. "But who knew that not specializing would be so helpful."