New theater company, Phoenix, will open with ‘Blue/Orange’
Two experienced Pittsburgh theater makers are about to add a new professional theater company to the Downtown arts community.
Andrew Paul, founder and former artistic director of Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre, and Mark Clayton Southers, founder and producing artistic director at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, as well as the former director of theater initiatives at the August Wilson Center, announced Sept. 23 that they are creating The Phoenix: a Theatre Company.
They will serve as co-artistic directors.
The Phoenix will concentrate on cutting-edge plays from around the globe that explore the issues of diversity in a rapidly changing, increasingly interconnected world. Its mission mirrors the Phoenix, a mythological bird that rose from the ashes of the past and emerged into a new life, crossing borders and finding a home in many locations and cultures.
Paul and Southers look forward to breaking loose of the restrictions that limited Paul to producing works that were either Irish or classics or, in Southers’ case, the works of Pittsburgh playwrights.
“I’ve always been into social issues, and I think it’s what theater does really well. … It opens people up and makes them think in different ways,” Paul says. “Pittsburgh is a very progressive theater community. With The Phoenix, I am trying to capitalize on where the country is going and be ahead of other cities.”
Southers plans to continue as producing artistic director at Pittsburgh Playwrights.
“For me, it’s about not having handcuffs on myself,” Southers says. “The imagination is there. I think we are going to do some unbelievable things with unbelievably talented folks.”
The company’s plans include taking a Phoenix production to international festivals or on European tours.
But for now, the co-artistic directors are concentrating on their four-play inaugural season.
That begins Nov. 1 with Joe Penhall’s Olivier Award-winning play “Blue/Orange” directed by Paul and featuring David Whalen, Sam Tsoutsouvas and newcomer Rico Parker. It will run through Nov. 23 at the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, Downtown. It’s a tale of race, madness and power struggles set in a London psychiatric hospital where an enigmatic patient claims to be the son of an African dictator — a story that becomes unnervingly plausible.
Three additional productions follow in 2014:
• J.T. Rogers’ spy thriller “Blood and Gifts,” (May 8-13, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre). Named one of the Top 10 plays of 2011 by Time magazine and The New York Times, the shockingly funny epic is set in 1981 Afghanistan, where the Soviet army is slashing and burning it way across the country. When a CIA operative is sent to try to halt the Soviets’ progress, KGB, British and Pakistani secret services wrestle with ever-shifting personal and political loyalties. Paul will direct.
• “Passing Strange,” (Sept. 25-Oct. 9, The New Hazlett Theater, North Side). Southers will direct this 2008 Tony Award winner for best book of a musical. It’s an autobiographical comedy-drama rock musical about a young African American’s artistic journey of self-discovery in the European cities of Amsterdam and Berlin. An onstage band accompanies a cast of seven actors playing more than 17 characters in a color-blind cast where black actors play both the black and white characters.
• “Miss Julie,” (Oct. 23-Nov. 15, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre), a world premiere by Southers, inspired by August Strindberg’s original drama and re-set in the South during the post-Civil War re-construction.
The 110-seat Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre and the 600-seat New Hazlett Theater are similar in size to the 478-seat Charity Randall Theatre and the 153-seat Henry Heymann Theatre that Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre calls home. But the Phoenix’s initial budget is $350,000 – approximately one-third that of PICT. The Phoenix has already received support from sponsors such as Richard Rauh and other area philanthropists and foundations who are underwriting some of the production costs. In addition, Gale McGloin, a nonprofit management and fundraising consultant, who had served as development director at PICT, has been hired to develop corporate and foundation funding sources.
Nevertheless, Paul and Southers are keeping ticket prices low to attract young and adventurous audiences.
Single tickets for “Blue/Orange” are now on sale at $38; $15 for those younger than 30 and $20 for artists. Four-play season subscriptions will go on sale soon at $120. Details: 888-718-4253, or visit www.phoenixtheatrepgh.org
Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or [email protected].