In September, when the Phoenix Theatre put out a national call for submissions for its annual holiday show, the theater asked for anything from a sketch or a song to an "arty tone poem" or a "boozy rant," and the celebration might be for Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice or Talk Like a Pirate Day. After all, the Phoenix has never been one to toe the line.
It's tough to describe exactly what to expect from the Phoenix's much beloved holiday show. This year's production is irreverently dubbed A Very Phoenix X-mas 8: Angels We Have Heard While High, a title that practically guarantees mirth but leaves a lot to the imagination. It's not exactly a play, and it's not exactly a concert. It's best described as a variety show, which means that it's chock-full of songs and sketches, banter and dance.
Bryan Fonseca, director and mastermind of the annual production as well as producing director of the Phoenix, says, "It's exactly a variety show. It's kind of a new-age type of variety show. It's non-traditional, and yet it's a tradition for us." You'll never see the same thing twice. It's different every year, with new material submitted from across the country.(This year, there was a submission from Australia.)
A Very Phoenix X-mas 8 will include, among other things, six short plays featuring the local acting talents of Scot Greenwell, Paul Hansen, Eric Olson, Ryan O'Shea and Lynn Wilhite, as well as an appearance from acclaimed hybrid arts group The Fourth Wall, three performers who manage to combine acting and dance--all while playing instruments. According to Fonseca, this year's installment into the Phoenix holiday canon has, "a more spacy, trippy feeling to it." Sort of like the feeling you get when you've downed one too many glasses of spiked eggnog.
The Phoenix's raucous holiday tradition was born out of its yearly dilemma: Do you do a holiday show or don't you? The Phoenix's particular mission is to present new plays and contemporary theater, so you're not going to see something like IRT's A Christmas Carol there. It's just not the theater's style. For years, it straddled the holiday dilemma by producing non-traditional holiday plays or productions that happened to be set around the holidays. When it finally lit upon the variety show format, the Phoenix knew it was the perfect solution to its holiday season conundrum. Now in its eighth consecutive year, the Phoenix's holiday show has become an Indianapolis favorite.
When asked what part of this particular show he's most looking forward to, Fonseca hesitates and then says, "One thing I'm really looking forward to is seeing what the audience's reaction will be. We have some really, really unusual pieces this year."
Fonseca has directed all eight of the Phoenix X-mas shows to date, in part because he's a self-proclaimed Christmas fanatic. "I own about 500 Christmas CDs," he says, "and I really enjoy the holidays and kind of a non-traditional approach to the holidays." It's reassuring to know that someone with this much energy and zest is at the wheel. If Fonseca has as many creative ideas as he does Christmas CDs, then we're safely assured of Phoenix X-mas shows well into the 22nd century.(Reserve your ticket now: A Very Phoenix X-mas 103: In a One-Horse Open Spaceship.)
Fonseca founded the Phoenix 30 years ago as the result of a list he made, as a young theater student, of what his ideal job would look like. "I tried to be very specific," he says. "There's a great quote from a play called The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe: 'All my life I wanted to be somebody, and now I realize I should have been more specific.' My ideal job was running an arts organization, it was directing plays, it was being my own boss. What I'm excited about is that all of those elements on that list are what's true to this day because I could work very diligently to make that happen." Happily, what's good for Fonseca is great for Indy--and even better for your holiday plans.
Don't worry: even if you missed out on the wacky holiday stylings of the first seven years ("Our Stockings Are Stuffed," "Our Goose Is Cooked," "Getting FiggyWith It," etc.), it's not too late to make A Very Phoenix X-mas your favorite new tradition that bucks tradition. So don your Santa hat and maybe an eye patch--just in case they actually follow through with Talk Like a Pirate Day.