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Banking on KC – Elaina Paige Thomas


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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is Elaina Paige Thomas, the founder of The Next Paige Agency, Kansas City's first black-owned talent management and production agency focusing on the performing arts. Welcome, Elaina.

Elaina Paige Thomas:

Hi, Kelly. Thank you so much for having me.

Kelly Scanlon:

Elaina, give us a quick overview of what you are trying to achieve with The Next Paige Agency. In other words, why did you decide to found it?

Elaina Paige Thomas:

I get this question a lot because as a creative, when I left Kansas City I realized that all creatives should not have to leave their hometown just to pursue their careers within the entertainment industry. And that is the problem that we are trying to solve here at The Next Paige. I believe that creatives should be able to be creative right here where they reside, versus having to move to larger cities to fulfill their dreams, or to make a living off of doing what they love to do each and every day.

Elaina Paige Thomas:

And so when I moved back to Kansas City, obviously I had to get my foot in the door first, and become educated and gain some experience. But now that I was back, I realized I want this for other people. And so I began to meet a lot of other creatives here in Kansas City that wanted that for themselves as well. And the talent here, oh my gosh, it's so vast. You know, we have so much talent here in Kansas City. And it's a shame that people have to move away to fulfill their dreams. And so I wanted to make it to where people could work right here in their homeland, and still get to do what they love to do each and every day. And make a living off of it.

Kelly Scanlon:

Let's talk about you for just a minute. You mentioned that you're a creative, and you've had a very prolific career yourself. So, tell us about some of the highlights, as well as some of the challenges that you've had during your career and prior to starting Next Paige.

Elaina Paige Thomas:

I would say, honestly, this is one that started my career, in all honesty, and put me in a great position within my resume was dancing for Beyonce. When I graduated college, I was able to work with really great directors like Debbie Allen, gosh, the list goes on. But I would say my most memorable experience was working for the Queen B herself. It was such a memorable, amazing experience. You know, Beyonce, she's very humble and she's such a hard worker. She's such a hard entertainer. And being a black woman in entertainment, it was hard. I'm going to be honest, it's politics. And so there were times where I would go to auditions or castings, quote, unquote. And because of the color of my skin, I would not get chosen. Or because I wasn't tall enough. There were challenges that I experienced within the entertainment industry because of the politics. I'm just going to be honest.

Elaina Paige Thomas:

And being that I was trained in multiple styles of dance. So I wasn't, just the hip-hop dancer. And I think that versatility helped me stand out from the rest. When we danced on Oprah's Surprise Spectacular, that was her last show. There I was able to really network with really great people. I mean, gosh, we got to meet Michael Jordan, our dressing room was right next to Stevie Wonder. It was an incredible experience. You know, Aretha Franklin bless her soul. It was an incredible experience. I just recall me telling myself at that moment I would never let someone tell me no, and that have an effect on me again.

Elaina Paige Thomas:

And I think that nowadays, especially with social media being the way that it is, it's so vast. And a lot of people use social media now as their resume. You have influencers, you have different avenues that you can explore there. And a lot of times it's a gift and a curse because we put so much emphasis on social media to where nowadays mental health... Mental health has always been an issue, but right now it's more than ever where issues are being had when people are committing suicide and such, because of confidence or because of hate. And I, being in the entertainment industry and being a dancer, knowing that I get to do what I love each and every day is healing. Being a dancer is healing. And being on that stage was healing. Well, it was

Kelly Scanlon:

Well, it was just validation that you had continued to muscle through to get there. The fact that your presence there on that stage was proof that this can be accomplished.

Elaina Paige Thomas:

Absolutely. And I tell my students, now that I'm in a different phase in my career, not to care what people think. Validation is for parking, is what I like to say, you don't need it. You don't need it. But when you do what you love to do each and every day, that validates itself.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah. As I recall, you actually established three very major goals when you were in third grade, and you've accomplished all of those. And one of them was to start your own agency or studio. So, it wasn't the first one to become a professional dancer, which you've done. And then you wanted to work with Debbie Allen, and you did that. And now you have launched your own agency. And I might add, you did this during a pandemic when so many live performances, involving dancing and so forth, they were canceled. So you decide this is the time to launch a talent agency focusing on that group. So, let's go back to that. What would you call the Next Paige Agency? I mean, it's more than a placement agency. Obviously you sign performers, but you also offer programming, you offer mentoring. Tell us about the full scope of what you're doing.

Elaina Paige Thomas:

I mean, once I moved back, I realized that not only should people be able to validate their dreams here at home, what I also realize is the lack of resources and ways that they could not validate their dreams, you know? So I'm like, okay, not only should we provide opportunities, but we should also provide resources and programming. So, then it became a matter of, okay, this is more than just a talent agent, right? You're now managing these artists and helping them with their full careers. So, we teach people how to create an industry resume. We teach people how to write a bio. You know, we teach finances, we teach literacy of your rights. Mental health is real. So we have a arts therapist on board to also help out with that.

Elaina Paige Thomas:

And so we offer tons of programming. I love the youth. I started dancing when I was three years old and my mother kept me involved in dance, sports. I was super active as a kid. And I just know that also helped me in auditions. We have a youth program, Where we teach young students how to walk into auditions. We teach them dance. We teach them acting, improvisation. We teach them modeling. We have a modeling workshop as well. But again, I realized that, okay, we need these resources and how can we find such programming to better serve and help our community, and help these creatives enhance their gifts.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned youth programs, Elaina, and investing in our youth. I like the use of the word investing there. Tell us a little bit more about your youth programs and why you consider them an investment.

Elaina Paige Thomas:

I consider our programs an investment in our youth because generations to come that is what keeps us going, investing in our youth. They are our tomorrow. And I feel that when you invest in a child at a young age, it teaches them what to do, of course, when they get older. And it stops generational curses as well. And so especially for me and my family, I have a little son now. I look at him each and every day and I have a new sense of motivation. He is the next generation. And whatever I invest in into him, I want to create generational wealth, actually for him. I want to create opportunities for him. So he won't have to go through some of the same things, some of the same challenges I had to go through. And so that's what I love to invest in my students. In teaching them now, because when they get older, when they get our age, they'll be much wiser.

Kelly Scanlon:

Obviously, you've hit upon something here, because even though you started in a pandemic, although we should probably say that you didn't just go into this blindly. You actually went through the Kaufman Foundation's fast track program, and did a lot of research, and talked to experts, and got a good business model in place. But you have hit upon something. Your company is adding staff. You're looking for a building to move into and you've signed several dozen artists already. What do you think is driving that rapid growth?

Elaina Paige Thomas:

As you did point out, I actually launched in 2019. And I don't know if a lot of people know that. We caught the wave right before the pandemic hit. I was actually in DC with Tamba Hali, a former Chiefs player, right before the Liberian Entertainment Awards got canceled. People want to entertain, people love entertainment. And I think now than ever, people are also realizing their voice. And a lot of people are stopping 9 to 5s, and they're realizing, hey, working for myself works better for me. I think now, more than ever, the time is now to invest in yourself, make your dreams come true instead of making someone else's dream come true. So I think that now more than ever, artists are starting to realize they can be free as artists.

Kelly Scanlon:

You have larger goals for the performing arts industry in Kansas City. Yes, you want performers to know they don't have to leave Kansas City in order to sign with a respectable agency and be able to find work. But you're also trying, as an agency, to position Kansas city for a stronger presence and influence in the larger entertainment industry. Talk to us about those efforts.

Elaina Paige Thomas:

Kansas City can be a performance hub for the industry. There was a bill passed in Oklahoma most recently for production, and it helps that city bring more union work to that city. For example, Patten Homes, does tons of commercials. As we all see on television, he has to leave town to do those commercials. He can't even do them right here, because there is no major production studio here in Kansas City. You know, we have Chicago that is next to us. Even St. Louis has one. Atlanta, all those larger cities, of course, they have them.

Elaina Paige Thomas:

But Kansas City is a phenomenal place to live, to raise a family. But also it should be a great place for entertainment as well. We have our rich jazz history here. The Kaufman Center is amazing. We have great talent at KC ballet. We have a wonderful conservatory at UMKC, for example. There was a series called Fargo. And do you know, it wasn't even shot here in Kansas City? It was about Kansas City. And so, I believe that if we were to become a part of that performance hub space, we could really have a great, phenomenal experience within the entertainment industry. More artists will come here. But we have some pretty spectacular venues.

Kelly Scanlon:

You personally are involved in advocacy efforts to pass legislation on behalf of the film industry. Tell us about those efforts.

Elaina Paige Thomas:

Absolutely. I've had great conversations over at the Kansas City Film Office. And we are definitely trying to create some better efforts to pass certain bills for us to have a greater production scene here in Kansas City. I know Shawn Edwards is doing some amazing things as well in the TV and film industry. I am at the top of that list, trying to advocate for us to have a better infrastructure here in Kansas City for the performing arts.

Kelly Scanlon:

What do you think it's going to take to start creating more awareness and to get the focus that's necessary for those production studios to open here, and for Kansas City to have a more central role in the performing arts arena?

Elaina Paige Thomas:

I think it's going to take more advocators, of course. There are a lot of people who are from Kansas City who move. And I believe that their voices, that could also help out a lot. I'm not going to point any names out specifically, but I know that having other advocators that have a successful career here in the industry, there has been great talent that has come from Kansas City. And I know funding is also huge, right? It all boils down to that at the end of the day as well.

Elaina Paige Thomas:

And I think that we put a lot of money into our sports here in Kansas City, but we also have to support the arts. I was hearing that arts were being taken out of some schools or, some budgets were being cut for the arts. And I don't believe that that should happen. I go to schools day to day, teaching about the arts. And what dance does historically, it's a great teaching tool. You have STEM programs, you have all other sorts of stuff. But you know, the arts help keep this roll going around. And I love sports as well, but I do think that we're going to need more funding placed within the arts.

Kelly Scanlon:

So, more awareness. It sounds like things are becoming more organized, as you say, with some of the Kansas citians who have left and have made a name for themselves. And that they are starting to use their voices as well. And then the funding. Those are the components that you see as being needed. If you can get all of those things to coalesce if you can get them all to come together in a line, where do you think Kansas City can go with that? What's your vision for what we can do?

Elaina Paige Thomas:

I think, especially our downtown, I think it could be a really great place for movies to be shot right here. Or, of course, commercial work. I feel that, with our rich jazz history, we have 18th and Vine, I believe that it will help our community.

Kelly Scanlon:

And the economic impact too.

Elaina Paige Thomas:

Oh yes, absolutely. The economic impact and jobs. It creates more jobs for people, for individuals as well. All in all, I do believe that it could be a central location. We're in the middle of the map, we're in the Midwest. And I believe that it could be an awesome thing for our city.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yes. And a lot of times when an industry really begins to grow stronger like that, in addition to creating jobs directly related to that industry, you start creating spinoff businesses. Business owners start creating businesses that support that bigger industry. And then they in turn have jobs available as well. So, it just all kind of explodes and multiplies.

Kelly Scanlon:

Elaina, for anyone who's listening today that wants to learn more about your talent agency, and your programming, or who would like to perhaps get involved with your advocacy effort, your goal to make Kansas City a center for the performing arts industry. How would they go about that? Should they go to your website or what's the best way to do that?

Elaina Paige Thomas:

Absolutely. They can go to our website at Next Paige. And that's nextpaigellc.com. Social media handles are all Next Paige Agency on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. And so we would love to connect. You know, networking is huge. I love to network and meet new people. And especially as you said, other advocators and anyone that is interested in continuing to invest in the arts.

Kelly Scanlon:

Elaina, thank you for everything that you are doing. And we'll just see in a few years where this takes Kansas City, in terms of its stature in the performing arts industry. Thank you again.

Elaina Paige Thomas:

Thank you for your support, Kelly. Have a great day.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, president of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Elaina Page Thomas for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC. Kansas City is increasingly in the national spotlight. However, advocates like Elaina want to see our hometown on the national stage, literally. Kansas City is teaming with talented creatives, and the art galleries and the crossroads, and venues such as the Kaufman Center for the Performing Arts and others have bolstered Kansas City's reputation as a place where local visual and performing artists can be successful. But as a Metro area, we have such an opportunity to build an even better infrastructure for the performing arts and to position Kansas City as a stronger player in the larger entertainment industry. In addition to the visibility more production studios and producers would bring to the city, such an investment allows our local talent to fulfill their dreams, and to make a living in their own hometown. Supporting the arts builds community, and it strengthens our economy. Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.

 

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