By BILL BROOKS
Since 1983, Bryan Fonseca has been fighting the good fight, bringing intellectually challenging productions to the stages of the Phoenix Theatre.
But if he could be forgiven for losing a little steam, just the opposite is true: He is looking forward to tossing more logs on the fire, as he eagerly awaits the theater’s move into new digs just seven blocks west of its long-time home in Chatham Arch and the Mass Ave Art and Theater District.
With construction on schedule after a slow start, Fonseca said the new theater can open in May 2018.
His eyes light up when he talks about what the Phoenix Theatre can do in its new $8.5 million facility which couldn’t be done in the cramped quarters of the former brick church which has hosted the Phoenix for 28 of its 33-year history. The list includes enhancements to productions to a significant broadening of the Phoenix’s outreach.
Fonseca, the theater’s founder and producing director, said he is eager to have a second stage without poles obscuring some audience sightlines. The second stage (the Frank and Katrina Basile Stage) will also have a 16-foot ceiling, about five feet above the current setup, changing the lighting options dramatically.
Fonseca said both stages will be spectacular. The new spaces have Fonseca excited about what productions he can chose for the new season. “I want to present what will show the space off well,” he said, pointing out again that the new facility will allow him to present plays that couldn’t be presented in the old building. “We can do the newest shows coming out in New York and across the country,” he said. The new space will also allow the Pheonix to provide space for other theater companies to present new work.
New work has been the staple of the Phoenix Theatre, which over the years has staged 91 world premieres. All of its productions are either world or regional premieres, with the latter list including 38 Tony Award winners and 14 Pulitzer Prize winners.
But Fonseca’s plan for the future includes more than just on-stage flexibility. Among the list of planned new endeavors are:
- Ongoing educational programming for both professionals and for aspiring actors. That includes training in dramatic performance for students as young as 13.
- A Town Hall series, discussions in a variety of areas of community interest, from politics to culture to education.
- Events involving cultures from around the world, with an eye toward the international student body at IUPUI.
- A spoken word series.
- An art gallery, to be operated by a contracted vendor.
- Outreach beyond the building’s walls. Fonseca understands there are barriers which keep many people from accessing live theater. Those reasons include transportation (although the new theater will be directly on the coming Red Line), as well as cultural reasons – uncertainty about how to dress or behave.
“We want to take programs out to the community,” he said. Fonseca also wants the theater to offer productions in Spanish.
Phoenix fundraising heads toward $10.1 million goal
The Phoenix Theatre is closing in on the $10.1 million goal of its fundraising effort for construction of its new facility at the corner of Illinois and Walnut streets.
The latest boon to the effort comes from the city of Indianapolis, which at press time was expected to award the Phoenix Theatre an allocation of new markets tax credits, which is a program of the U.S. Dept. of Treasury designed to spur economic redevelopment of urban areas.
Of that allocation, the theater likely will net between $1.5 million and $1.9 million which would be immediately invested into the construction project. This deal would bring the fundraising balance to almost $9 million.
The Phoenix board and staff continue to be wonderfully surprised by the generosity of individuals who have had a long association with the theater, said Capital Campaign Manager Bill Simmons. He said one of the most significant gifts came in February – a $700,000 gift from the Herbert Simon Family Foundation, managed by the Central Indiana Community Foundation.
Other significant donors to the campaign include Christel DeHaan and her family foundation; late Celadon Trucking founder Steve Russell and his wife, Livia; retired Gene B. Glick Co. executive Frank Basile and his wife, Katrina; philanthropists Ann and Chris Stack; retired Eli Lilly & Co. CEO John Lechleiter and his wife, Sarah; and Gregory & Appel’s Dan Appel and his wife, Kate.
Lilly Endowment, The Glick Fund, The Efroymson Fund, Lumina Foundation, CICF, and the Allen Clowes Charitable Foundation also have made significant gifts to our campaign.
Simmons said that – while staff and key volunteers are working on plans to conclude fundraising for the construction of the new facility – the Phoenix Board of Directors is also looking beyond the completion of the building in May 2018.
In addition to increasing programming, which will necessitate adding key staff positions, the directors are developing ambitious long-range plans that include building a $2 million contingency fund by the end of 2020 and a $3 million permanent endowment by the end of 2023.
Two stages, but that’s not all ….
The new Phoenix Theatre, set to open in May 2018, features two theaters – the 150-seat proscenium Steve & Livia Russell Stage and the 90-seat Frank & Katrina Basile Stage. But it also includes:
- Dedicated classrooms and rehearsal studio.
- A state-of-the-art scene shop and costume shop.
- A grand lobby that will open directly onto the Indianapolis Cultural Trail.
- A special events lounge.
- Gallery space.
- A prep kitchen for catered events and event rentals. Producing Director Bryan Fonseca said the new facility will be available for such things as weddings and corporate meetings, with a capacity for sit-down dinners for 150 people.
When the new theater project was announced, Fonseca said, “Our proposed new home will allow us to present plays concurrently, resulting in the employment of more actors, directors, stage managers, choreographers and designers.”
Other Phoenix News ….
- The theater’s major fundraiser, BREW-HA-HA, will continue to be staged on Park Avenue, Producing Director Bryan Fonseca said. The date for the 2018 event has not been announced.
- Fonseca said that, despite the theater’s move from the Mass Ave Art & Theater District, he hopes to continue staging INDYFRINGE productions, although no firm arrangements have been set.
- Fonseca plans to announce the 2018 SCHEDULE for spring and summer productions by the end of January. The theater would then revert to its traditional schedule, with the pending announcement of a 2018-19 season running from September through August 2019.