Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Digging deeper: Phoenix feathers its nest, breaking ground for new facility

Bryan Fonseca (center, without hardhat) and Phoenix stalwarts apply shovels.
Closing in on its $8.5 million capital-campaign goal, Phoenix Theatre on Tuesday afternoon had both feet on solid ground — and shovels to dig it with — with a ground-breaking ceremony in the 700 block of North Illinois Street.

"We've never raised this much money before," said producing director Bryan Fonseca, who founded the company with local like-minded theater artists 34 years ago. And such is the momentum behind the current campaign that it will be extended, he announced, to garner an additional $2 million as a contingency fund by 2020, with a further $3 million goal to substantiate the theater's solvency through 2023.

Set to open next year, the new facility will  will include a150-seat proscenium theater, a black-box theater with seating up to 90, classrooms and rehearsal studio, plus a scene shop and a costume shop, among other features. Growth of Phoenix activities that will include community outreach entail expanded operations that Fonseca predicts "will double opportunities for the current community of actors."

He also noted that the building, bordering the Cultural Trail  and Walnut Street, is the first free-standing theater to be built in Indianapolis in the past 100 years.

Several speakers at the gathering noted the geographical advantages of the new location. Jeff Bennett, deputy mayor of community development for the office of the mayor, said that "the arts are no longer just an amenity, but a baseline expectation, a need for our neighborhoods." City-County Councilor Vop Osili praised the 705 N. Illinois St. location as "the nexus of business and culture."

Representing the Indianapolis Cultural Trail Board of Directors, Brian Sullivan, managing partner at Shiel Sexton, inserted a topical note, saying "it's never been more important to hear from our artists."

And community volunteer and arts philanthropist Frank Basile made reference to Fonseca's pursuit of the Phoenix mission in spite of opposition from some supporters in the first half of the theater's 34-year history to withdraw because some of the productions were deemed offensive. "He resisted threats to change the selection of plays," Basile said. "He didn't even consider making those changes. And the board supported him in that stance — sometimes nervously."