Phoenix Theatre turns 30 this season

Like a person trying to hush up hitting the big 3-0, the Phoenix Theatre will not be planning an elaborate party for its 30th anniversary this season.

The reason is much different, however.

Planning its anniversary season was much like laying out any other season, said Bryan Fonseca, producing director for the Phoenix.

Since the theater focuses on producing the newest shows available, putting on a “big hits retrospective” would have been against what it stands for.

Instead, Fonseca said he concentrated on what is happening in the moment.

Being an election year, Fonseca said he looked to find a production “that might inspire people to be involved in politics, something that might cause people to think a little bit about politics and reflect upon their own attitudes.”

He chose to start off the season with the musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” which runs Sept. 20 through Oct. 21.

Fonseca said part of what allows the Phoenix to be so current is the number of regional and worldwide premieres it produces.

On average, half of the Phoenix’s season are completely new plays, he said.  Last year, six out of its 10 productions had never before been produced in the Midwest.

The Phoenix belongs to the National New Play Network, the self-described “alliance of nonprofit theaters that champions the development, production and continued life of new plays.”

Fonseca said that when he chooses productions, he also makes sure the plays or musicals are entertaining. He tries to choose productions that enthrall the audience while ultimately causing people to think and reflect.

“Playwrights are unafraid to write about what’s going on in the world around us in a pure form,” he said.  “They won’t dilute the message.”

As an example, he spoke about the AIDS crisis and how long it took America to react.  Mainstream movies about the crisis did not start coming out until the mid-1990s, he said.  In contrast, the Phoenix put on productions centered on AIDS -related issues as early as 1985.

He said that the Phoenix has moved toward programming musicals into its seasons as well, since musicals are now commenting on current events.

In addition to the political “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” the Phoenix is producing the rock musical “Next to Normal” in January and February.

This musical, which tells the story of a woman coping with bipolar disorder and hallucinations, is only the eighth musical to win the Pulitzer Prize.

This season, management and artists are creating a five-year plan for future development.

Fonseca said he would like to see the Phoenix grow from an Indianapolis presence to a regional or national presence.  Slow and sustained growth has been and will be the key to success, he said.

Last year, the Phoenix had a 10 percent increase in ticket sales despite the down economy and troubled times for many arts organizations.

The Phoenix Theatre has many ties to Butler.

Butler students often work in its productions in acting or stage management positions, and several actresses from the Phoenix will be collaborating with Butler students in a staged reading of the play “Seven” this week in Lilly Hall.

“Seeing students work with professional actors on the stage makes the world of theater seem that much closer,” junior theatre major Veronica Orech said.

Fonseca said he wished to let Butler students know that he is always trying to find plays that address the concerns of their generation in particular.

“The producers here in Indianapolis are much more approachable than you might assume,” Fonseca said. “If you have a project or play you’re aware of, share that with us.”

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