Bryan Fonseca, who founded the Phoenix Theatre in 1983, is leaving the organization after 35 years of serving as the group's principal director and main artistic force, the theater announced Friday afternoon.
The stunning move comes in the midst of a major transition for the theater, which just moved into a newly built, $11 million downtown facility on the northeast corner of Illinois and Walnut streets. It's still raising money for the facility and recently sought the city's help in financing the project.
Fonseca, the 63-year-old producing director for the Phoenix, started the not-for-profit in 1983 at the Ambassador Building on East Ninth Street. In 1988, it moved to a former church at 749 N. Park Ave., where it cemented a strong regional reputation for producing fresh and thematically challenging work with a mix of professional and veteran community actors.
"The board of directors believe that the institution now needs to redirect its energy to a solid fiscal focus," Fonseca said, "That there are other leaders more capable of putting their energies into meeting the remaining financial demands of the institution's capital campaign and future operations. I am leaving to focus my creative energies elsewhere.”
Fonseca will be given the honorary title of founder and producing director emeritus. The stage in the Russell Theatre portion of the new facility will be named the Bryan Fonseca Stage.
The Phoenix typically produces 10 or more plays and musicals per year and often stages regional premieres of work that recently debuted in Broadway or off-Broadway theaters.
“Bryan dedicated his life and professional career to building a first-class theater that is also an integral part of the National New Play Network, offering world premieres of the work of important new playwrights," Phoenix Theatre Board President Frank Basile said in written comments. "I can think of no more fitting honor and legacy than to name the stage in the Russell Theatre the Bryan Fonseca Stage."
The move is surprising in that Fonseca had established a longer timeline for his eventual departure. In 2012, he told IBJ he planned to work at the theater for another 10 years and that his ideal scenario would be to work alongside a new artistic director for a season before retiring.
Local actor and director Bill Simmons will assume Fonseca's role as producing director. Simmons has served as the Phoenix's capital campaign manager for fundraising for the new theater.
The move is just the latest in several administrative changes in the past couple years at the Phoenix.
The theater hired managing director Kevin Kruse in 2017, and altered the position so Kruse would report directly to the board of directors, rather than the artistic director.
After Kruse joined the theater, he hired Pam Dyar, former director of development for Maltz Jupiter Theatre in Florida, as director of advancement.
In fall 2017, Fonseca told IBJ that he was completely supportive of the decision to have co-leaders. Also at that time, Fonseca said he expected to direct about half of the shows staged at the new theater.
The Gary native has a bachelor’s degree in theater and communication from IUPUI.