“I don’t know if I’m an artist – but I am creative!”
Pierre Marleau , founder, CEO and production designer of Orange Frog Productions Inc., is passionate about a word: collaboration. To him, any type of work, from art to business, cannot reach its full potential without collaboration.
It was a lesson he learned at a very young age.
“I don’t know if I’m an artist, but I am creative.” Marleau is musing as we talk about why collaboration is so important to him, and how it relates to his current work as a custom light designer in Calgary as the founder of Orange Frog Productions. “My dad was a lumberjack. As a young kid, with access to materials and tools, I started carving wood. My parents saw that I had some skill, so they sent me to a wood shop class.”
His creative side would soon find another outlet.
“When I was about 12, my mother took me to see a musical. It was brilliant! I remember watching this musical and walking out of there and thinking, one day I want to work there. Six years later, I got a job at that same theatre.”
Although many know him as a premier custom light designer in Calgary, Marleau’s theater work took him around the world where he’s worked on some of the most sought-after productions, including The Phantom of the Opera. As a teen, however, he didn’t start with technical theatre management. He started by sweeping floors and unloading trucks. In fact, when his salary was mentioned to him on day one, his reaction was, “wait, I’m getting paid for this?” He was willing to work for free just to be around the creative process he loved.
“I loved how creative and collaborative theatre was! The fact that a group of people could entertain an entire theatre for an hour and a half – there is a lot of power in that!”
It was then Marleau began to see that the headliner was not the one that carried the show. It took everyone from the hands pulling back the curtain to the actor on the stage to make a production work; and no one job was more important than the other.
“You don’t see the collectiveness right away,” he says, thinking back to those early theatre days. “But the more exposed you are to the larger process and different people, the more you realize that the companies that are very collaborative are the most successful. There is something about the power of multiple minds.”
Driven by the Past, Inspired by the Future
Marleau is the first to admit that not every person or production is collaborative, and that is okay. But for him, collaboration is vital.
“There is no doubt that where I came from influences where I am now. I learned it’s okay to hang lights. It’s okay to push brooms. If you have never done any of that and just wake up one day and say ‘well, I’m going to be an artist,’ you are not going to make it. School creates the container to fill up what life has to put into it. By working on projects where I didn’t get paid, but doing that ‘grunt’ work, by doing collaborations for the love of theatre, I learned so much. You do the good jobs and you do the non-glamourous jobs. Everyone has a role to play and every role is important.
“I know now that back then I was sweeping those floors with a higher purpose. I’m glad I did all those things because as a company owner I understand the value of those jobs. There is not a person on my team that I don’t appreciate. No matter what their job is, I’ve done it at some point.”
What Collaboration Means for Orange Frog Productions
Marleau is deeply appreciative for the many years he spent touring the world and helping to produce some of theatre’s most demanding and beloved shows. When it came time to switch gears, he opened Orange Frog Productions so he could build a team dedicated to continuing to share the beauty of theatre with the world.
For Marleau and his staff, lighting up a political debate or a wedding is every bit as important as lighting up a Cirque du Soleil production. Each gets the same level of dedication and unique custom light design. Each planner gets Orange Frog’s undivided attention and becomes part of the family as they work together to create unforgettable events.
The team of Orange Frog Productions all have a theatre background, so they understand the intricacies of what it takes, from a technical standpoint, to light an event. More importantly, they all have worked every position, from ground up, and have relied on collaboration to ensure each and every production goes as smoothly as possible. This means the team is incredibly agile and able to quickly resolve the situations that can arise before, during or after an event.
“Now that I’m getting older, I see that who you surround yourself with is so important. It’s tougher now to read magazines and watch award shows or go to plays because of the pace of life, but the only way I could be on top of the game back then was to travel and do shows four days a week. There comes a point where you can’t do that anymore,” concludes Marleau. For me, that is why collaboration is so important. When you can’t see it all, do it all and work every show, collaborating means there are more minds around that have experienced what you have not.
“If we did our job well, we are going to be right on point with the execution of the show without taking it over. But if we don’t collaborate, it shows.”