By John Lyle Belden
The Phoenix Theatre, a downtown Indy arts institution for more than 30 years, took its next step in relocating to a bigger, better building with its Groundbreaking Ceremony on May 2 at the now-vacant site on north Illinois Street by the Cultural Trail.
Construction will begin soon, with grand opening of the new facility in spring of 2018. In the meantime, the Phoenix continues its full season of performances in its longtime Chatham Arch home, 749 N. Park Ave. (corner of Park and St. Clair, near Mass Ave.).
“This will be the first free-standing theater (not part of a school or other institution) built (downtown) in the last 100 years,” said producing director (and one of Phoenix’s founders) Bryan Fonseca. He added that the multi-million dollar capital campaign, largest in its history, had nearly reached its goal, with plans to continue fundraising for contingency funds and other future needs.
With two state-of-the-art stages, meeting areas and full costume and prop shops, the planned building will not only host full year-round Phoenix seasons, but be available to other community theatre and arts groups.
“We want to eradicate the distinction of ‘underserved groups,'” Fonseca said, “and become one community.”
The Groundbreaking drew numerous dignitaries, including Jeff Bennett, Deputy Mayor of Community Development for Indianapolis, who said the new Phoenix building “will transform this neighborhood, and it will transform lives.”
City-County Councilor Vop Osili was pleased with the location, just a block away from Meridian Street.
“This is located literally at the crossroads of commerce and culture,” he said.
Brian Sullivan, managing partner of Shiel Sexton contractors and member of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail Board of Directors, declared it a “happy day” and “a groundbreaking day for a groundbreaking theatre.”
“Today, it has never been more important for our community to hear from our artists,” he added.
Fervent supporter, donor and Phoenix board member Frank Basile, who proudly noted he had seen practically every one of the theatre’s productions over the years, declared, “We’ve really just begun.”
Local actors and Phoenix founding artists Deb Sargent-Shaver and Gayle Steigerwald praised Fonseca for his leadership and thanked all who contributed to the building campaign.
“We are so grateful that our legacy, and our tribe, will continue in this new building,” Steigerwald said.
Among the many past and present actors and crew members in attendance was Charles Goad, who was featured in the very first Phoenix show in 1983, as well as the present production of “The Open Hand.”
The traditional chrome-shovel ceremony featured Fonseca, Bennett, Sullivan and other dignitaries, but in true theatre community fashion, the shovels were handed over to any actors, crew, friends or supporters who wanted a photo opportunity. Several thespians eagerly turned spades of dirt, as if to speed the process of bringing in a new stage for their work.
To conclude the festivities, the Phoenix had its old bird-from-the-flames logo symbolically “destroyed” with an appropriately-decorated pinata, full of candies wrapped in the new logo, and prizes supplied by sponsors — including tickets to upcoming Phoenix shows. Several in attendance took got swings in before the party favor shattered to cheers all around.
For information on present and future shows, as well as the new location and Capital Campaign, go to www.phoenixtheatre.org.