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400 Faces: Leigh Ann Cannady, founder and artistic director of Forsyth Academy of Performing Arts
Leigh Ann Cannady
Leigh Ann Cannady, Founder and artistic director of Forsyth Academy of Performing Arts - photo by Brian Paglia

This article appears in the March issue of 400 Life.

Leigh Ann Cannady wasn’t sure what to do next. 

The Conyers native was raising a family and giving private piano and voice lessons out of her family’s Forsyth County home at the time, and her students kept asking where they could take performing arts classes or participate in a production. Everywhere Cannady knew to send them was outside Forsyth County.

Cannady already had dreams of building her own educational theater company one day. She even had made a business plan but was waiting for the right time. 

But Cannady also had a job offer to go back into teaching. 

“It was like, ‘What do we do?’” Cannady said.

Cannady decided to take a chance, and in August of 2013 she opened the Forsyth Academy of Performing Arts (FAPA).

They started with just 35 kids that first season. By the next semester, they had 70, and FAPA has been growing ever since.

FAPA now has 400-450 students every week who take various educational theater classes for acting, improv, sketch writing, musical theater and more. FAPA has also started hosting community productions. “Steel Magnolias,” which took place Feb. 22 and 23, was their third.

Cannady talked with 400 Life about how she unwinds during her hectic schedule, her three chickens and what’s missing in the Forsyth County arts community.

Who are your favorite actors or actresses?

“I will always love Julia Roberts. I just can’t help it. I like Holly Hunter too. We are on the same plaque at my high school (Rockdale County High School in Conyers). We both won drama awards. So yeah, I gotta support the hometown girl.

But Julia Roberts is probably the top of my list. I’m a chick-flick kinda girl.”

Do you have a favorite vacation spot?

“My husband and I take a vacation every year, just the two of us. And we discovered that we really love Mexico. Last year, we went to Cancun. 

“And my style of vacation is putting my behind in a lounge chair with a book and not doing anything but that for as many hours of the day as possible, because I’m constantly going in real life.”

You have any pets?

“We have two dogs, Daisy and Gurley. And then my cat’s name is Roquan. We’re big Georgia Bulldogs fans. And then Hazel, Ethel and Edna are our chickens.”

What is your go-to Netflix show?

“We love ‘Ozark.’ We love ‘Dead Man Walking,’ and we watched ‘The Ted Bundy Tapes.’ They’re really good. It’s super-creepy.

“Fun fact: we watch The Bachelor, because if you’ve ever seen that show Mystery Science 3000, where it has the heads of the little guys — that’s what we do with The Bachelor. We tape it and watch it after the kids go to bed and we substitute our own dialogue.”

What’s the last book you read and enjoyed?

“Totally not a pick-me-up, but ‘Dead Man Walking,’ which was really interesting. The Atlanta opera is running right now the opera, and I had never read the book.”

How do you unwind after a long day at FAPA?

“I do like to read, and I love to bake. Little known fact, but I started FAPA, I had a custom-cake business where I did birthday cakes and cookies when I was kind of in between a stay-at-home mom and back in the workforce. So I’m a baker.”

Do you have a specialty?

“I love cookies. They’re a lot of bang for your buck. Buy my favorite thing is to just constantly try new things. So I almost never make the same thing twice. I’m constantly saving recipes. I’m a hoarder of cookbooks and magazine (recipes) and blogs. My Pinterest is all baking.”

What’s the big issue in arts in Forsyth County right now?

“What I see is a real lack of space. The high schools all have performing arts centers. The Board of Education is about to build this massive, massive performing arts centers, which I’m sure if going to be amazing.

“But for people like me, people like local dance schools, private studios who are teaching voice, piano, those kinds of things, there’s just a real lack of space. 

“So, we’re working on that. In fact, I just left a meeting today with a builder who we’re working with to hopefully within the next month or so launch or own homegrown Kickstarter to create a space.”

— Story and photo by Brian Paglia