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City Requests Meeting with Phoenix Leadership after Departure of Bryan Fonseca

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Left to Right: Bryan Fonseca, Frank Basile, Kevin Kruse, Bill Simmons

Left to Right: Bryan Fonseca, Frank Basile, Kevin Kruse, Bill Simmons

Editor's Note: Bryan Fonseca, who declined to comment for this story, announced on the morning of June 18 that he is opening a new theater, River West Theater. 

The city of Indianapolis has requested a meeting with the Phoenix Theatre leadership.

The request by the city was made after the theater announced on June 1 that the theater’s founder, Bryan Fonseca, would be leaving his position as producing director. Phoenix board member Bill Farkas confirmed that such a meeting would take place. 

Deputy Mayor of Community Development Jeff Bennett says the meeting should take place within the next couple of weeks.

"We stay in close contact with projects that receive public financing—in this case, we’ll be getting an update on the leadership transition at Phoenix," he said.

After Fonseca’s parting of ways with the theater, there were two departures from the board of directors that Farkas knows of—Patricia Castaneda and Rick Rezek—he said.

The nonprofit performing arts organization moved into the new $11 million Cultural Centre at 705 N. Illinois St. on April 28. A major gifts campaign was started to fund the new building, but the campaign is still approximately $2.5 million short of its goal.

The Phoenix had formerly occupied a retrofitted church at 749 Park Ave., adjacent to Mass Ave.

Last month, the Phoenix received new market tax credits that will generate $2.5 million in equity for the theater. The credits were secured through a $4.5 million bond backed by the city.

In order for the Phoenix Theatre to show the city that it would have the ability to successfully close out its major gifts campaign—and presumably be able to sustain itself long term—the theater commissioned an outside consultant to present a feasibility study. The study, a prerequisite step in receiving the new markets tax credits, was presented on March 23, 2018.

The study, which was shared with the city of Indianapolis, was based, in part, on 23 personal interviews with “leaders from across numerous corporate and community sectors,” according to the feasibility study executive summary.

“There are highly regarded leaders within the [Phoenix] administration,” reads one of the bullet points in the executive summary. Elsewhere in the document, overall confidence is expressed in the theater’s ability to carry out its capital campaign and its mission. Confidence was also expressed in the theater’s place in the community.

There is no hint of dissension or dissatisfaction with Phoenix leadership in the study.

Bill Simmons was capital campaign manager during the time that the study was completed. In the same June 1 press release that announced Fonseca’s departure from the producing director role in the theater, Simmons was named artistic director. Essentially, this is the same role as producing director, said Farkas.

Farkas declined to comment on whether Fonseca’s departure was voluntary or not, saying that he was not authorized to discuss personnel issues. As for Fonseca’s new role, his new title (producing director emeritus) is in name only.

“At this moment Bryan would have no responsibilities,” said Farkas. “That being said, the door is always open for the potential for Bryan to direct shows [or] to potentially bring in shows produced either by him or by the theater.

Farkas acknowledged Fonseca’s leadership role at the Phoenix.

“Bryan has done it all, and once we went from a $600,000 to a $1.5 million budget, first off we wouldn’t have been in the position to build the building and move forward reputationally without Bryan,” he said. “So all of this was created and done by Bryan. Bryan’s vision, Bryan’s energy, Bryan’s time, Bryan’s connections, Bryan’s passion for all of this.”

Farkas also expressed confidence that the mission of the Phoenix, post-Fonseca—of bringing edgy theater to Indianapolis—would not change.

“I’m speaking on my behalf as a board member, and I feel strongly that the rest of the board would say 100 percent absolutely,” he said. “That’s why we are here. That’s what we are committed to doing. We know that Indianapolis needs the kinds of shows that we have produced and continue to produce.”

The leadership change, Farkas said, has been difficult for the Phoenix. “As someone who has served on the board a long time and served in leadership capacities with Bryan, this is difficult for all of us…With all that’s transpired with the new building, I’m very curious to see what Bill’s going to do. He did such an outstanding job as an actor in Halftime with Don; he did such an outstanding time as a director of The Pill...It’s going to be interesting to see him in that role of figuring out what shows we do moving into the future and how those are received. I’m very excited to see what the future’s going to hold for us. I think that we’re positioned in a really good place.”

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Writer Arts, Faith & Equity

Having lived and worked in Indy on and off since 1977, and currently living in Carmel, I've seen the city change a great deal. I love covering the arts in all its forms, and the places where the arts and broader cultural issues intersect.

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