New Phoenix Artistic Director Intends to Walk The Walk

June 18, 2022

“On The Verge” – 1989 Phoenix Theatre – L-R Constance Macy, Gayle Steigerwald & Suzanne Fleenor

Constance Macy in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: – Cardinal Stage

For most people, the recent announcement came as a happy surprise, but for insiders, the decision to appoint well-known Indy actor Constance Macy as Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre’s new artistic director seemed like the best solution. That’s because a multi-year national search was unsuccessful in securing the desired candidate, a woman of color, who founder Bryan Fonseca had recommended to succeed him upon his retirement, prior to his abrupt and controversial departure from the Phoenix in 2018. Macy, who has served as the organization’s interim director since January, Macy is only the third artistic director of the Phoenix, succeeding Bill Simmons, who replaced Fonseca.

Other than the fact she does not completely fit Fonseca’s criteria for the individual he envisioned, it’s safe to conclude Macy’s extensive artistic experience makes her ideally qualified for the job. Macy’s impressive credits include 30 years on numerous regional stages, including Indiana Repertory Theatre, Pioneer Theatre Company in Utah, Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, New York, Syracuse Stage, PlayMakers Repertory Company in North Carolina, Seattle Children’s Theatre, and Cardinal Stage in Bloomington. Macy has also performed for Indianapolis Shakespeare Company and numerous times at the Phoenix, including the role of Margaret Sanger in “The Pill.” She directed “Bakersfield Mist” at the Phoenix late last year.

L-R Constance Macy & Ryan Artzberger in “God of Carnage” – Indiana Repertory Theatre

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Macy in the house of the Livia and Steve Russell Stage to chat about her appointment and discuss her plans and vision for the future. I first asked her what kind of feedback she was hearing about the big news. “I have received positive responses and encouragement from people like Janet Allen and folks I knew at IRT, as well as those I worked with at Cardinal Stage,” she replied. “People I have worked with over the years have been supportive.” On the downside, Macy said she did receive one piece of hate mail. “It came from someone who carries a grudge about the situation with Bryan. It was sad because it is someone who has known me for 30 years and suddenly, they don’t like me, right?”

Macy, a longtime friend and colleague of Fonseca, said she placed a small calaca, or skeleton, in her office cubicle to honor Fonseca, who loved Mexican folk art. “It is not like I was singled out to do this job,” she said. “It is important to know, we did a national search, and we offered this job to some people of color, to better represent this community, but for various reasons, they had to turn it down. It has been the goal, and mine as well, to better represent the community we are serving, as far as BIPOC artists and folks associated on all levels.” For those turning down the job, Macy said there was a critical obstacle that stood in their way. “There is a building loan hanging over the place and this all ties together. That is why Bill (Simmons) is now raising money full time, creating this safety net for us. We must pay off the building loan to go forward. That was too scary for someone to leave a job they already have in another city and come here. So, that is how I came to be sitting here.”

L.R Constance Macy & Cyndi Phillips in “Osage County” – Cardinal Stage

I asked her if she is prepared to be the face of the theatre in her leadership role. “Yes,” she said, but emphasized, “People look at the artistic director and think they make all the decisions, but that is simply not true. Managing director Delia Robinson is very much my equal as is advancement director Kathy Pataluch. Actually, the three of us are equals. So, I am not running this by myself, but I am the face and if people do not like the season, it is because I have terrible taste (laughing).”

As for her role models in arts administration, Macy said Janet Allen has been her mentor her entire adult life and gave her some good advice right after she started running The Phoenix. “She was very blunt and said, ‘What you need is to invest in good directors and good designers.’ So, as you know, that is part of it,” Macy said. “We need to focus our energy on producing exceptional pieces. That is why next season we are only going to produce four plays.”

Macy said the focus will be on comedies next season. “Now, that does not mean that all you are going to see at Phoenix is comedies, but the four we are producing are all going to be funny pieces.” She explained her grand scheme is to embrace the “cultural” in the Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre. “While the Phoenix Theatre is presenting four pieces, we are also partnering with American Lives Theatre, Summit Performance, Indy Shakes, Freetown Village, Ben Asaykwee, Phoenix Rising Dance and Eclipse. It’s s a full season of theatre, but it’s more of a group effort from the community.”

L-R Lisa Ermel & Constance Macy in Clybourne Park – Phoenix Theatre

The season will include “tick, tick…BOOM!” a 1991 autobiographical musical by the late Johnathan Larson that was recently adapted into a hit film on Netflix. It will also include “The Rise and Fall of Holly Fudge,” a holiday comedy, “Wild Horses,” a one-woman show in which Macy will star, and “Two Mile Hollow,” a satire about the problems of rich white people, featuring a BIPOC cast.

Asked if she expects to receive criticism for casting herself in “Wild Horses” Macy seemed unfazed. “Oh, totally. I know I will. I did think about that and talked to Bill about it. He encouraged me to include the show in the season. Are people going to look it as being self-serving on my part? Maybe. But I decided, if my strong suit were directing, I would probably be directing two of the four shows we are doing next season. What I bring to the table the most, however, is acting.” She theorized it might be an effective way to create a bridge to bring her IRT fans to the Phoenix. “There are so many people who knew me at IRT, so I hope they will follow me.” Lastly, on the subject of “Wild Horses” Macy said, “Laurie Hudson, the director, and I worked on this play for The New Harmony Project when it was developed six or seven years ago. She and I have wanted to do this play for the longest time. Now, we’re in positions to do it; so, why not? Yes, I know there are some who will say negative stuff, but I just want what is best for this place.”

Macy said her biggest challenges include finances and ensuring racial equity. “We need the money and the staff to do things at a certain level of quality. I want actors of color, but also want to hire directors of color, as well as train and bring up designers (set, costumes, lighting and sound designers) and stage managers of color. It’s not about just putting brown bodies on the stage that creates equity, but what I am finding, systemically and historically, is there just haven’t been that many people of color who have yet chosen other fields in theatre.” To help in the process of developing those professionals, a paid apprenticeship program has been included in the theatre’s sustainability campaign. “People must be compensated. So, yes, that is something I want to do. To make sure that Black, Latinx and all children of color have an opportunity to go into this field, in general. But we need to walk the walk.”

Finally, when I asked her if she thought Fonseca would be pleased to see her at the helm of the beloved theatre he founded and poured his heart and soul into for 35 years, she quietly said, “I hope so.”

For more information about the 2022-2023 season at Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre, visit phoenixtheatre.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

photo: Josh Humble

About Tom

Journalist, producer, director, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, arts administrator, TV contributor, actor, model, writer and lyricist, Tom Alvarez has had an extensive career in media and the fine arts and continues to be an enthusiastic and devoted fan of both. His passion and unique background grant him insight, access and perspective to cover, promote and review the arts in Indianapolis, Central Indiana and beyond. Follow him on social media @tomalvarezartswriter and @tomalvarez1.

Alvarez has been writing about theatre, dance, music, cinema and visual arts for 40 years. His work has appeared in the Indianapolis Star, NUVO, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana, Unite Magazine, Dance Magazine, NOTE Magazine, and Examiner.com, among many other print and online platforms. A former contributor to Across Indiana on WFYI-TV, he currently has a regular performing arts segment on WISH-TV’s Life. Style. Live!

A principal of Klein & Alvarez Productions, LLC, Alvarez co-created “Calder, The Musical” and is the managing director of Magic Thread Cabaret. As an actor-model, he has appeared in numerous TV and print ads and is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

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