Last week, Sky Blue Window had the opportunity to preview Phoenix Theatre's latest production "SPUN." The performance was part of the theater's new initiative Tweet Night, which offers free access to students and media in exchange for constructive feedback.
"We're trying, like everybody, to just use social media as much as we can. I'm an old guy when it comes to that," says Phoenix Theatre's producing director Bryan Fonseca. "We're looking for assistance. We're looking for ideas. That's why we have a board of directors, and the younger members of that board who are more tech-savvy give us a lot of ideas. But we're always open to suggestions and creating new programs. I don't ever want to hear that price is a barrier for people to experience theater."
"SPUN" is an original rock musical, which was commissioned by Bloomington Playwrights Project last year with financial assistance from the National New Play Network. Writer Emily Goodson collaborated with composer Jeremy Schonfeld to condense what began as a 700-page book into a manageable 120-page script. Chad Rabinovitz, who doubles as BPP's producing artistic director, handled direction for both the Bloomington and Phoenix versions of the musical. "He was very interested in exploring [SPUN] more, developing it more," Fonseca says. "I think that his vision, his interpretation, his attack on the play has remained the same ... What everybody is hoping for is what will come of all of this is a very tight, two-person musical. A lot of theaters are interested in small-cast musicals."
"SPUN" presents broad emotional themes of abandonment and reconciliation between two siblings who reconnect around the death of their parent. Jesse, played by Chris Roe, and Molly, played by Lisa Ermel, are forced to face regret and shared dreams of rock stardom as they relive painful memories in a way that's both tragic and comedic. The script explores the feeble nature of memory through the siblings' varied accounts of the events that led to their estrangement.
Throughout the performance, the actors are accompanied by a band whose position amidst the set's backdrop elevates the musicians' role to a third character of sorts. It's an effective move that gives the two-man production a more expansive feel. Led by Phoenix musical director Tim Brickley on guitar, the band includes Dietrick Kloosper on bass, Dan Marquis on drums, and Rex Price on keyboards.
The Tweet Night performance of "SPUN " was delayed momentarily due to a blown subwoofer -- a fitting setback for a rock musical. The delay gave Fonseca time to engage the audience around Phoenix Theatre's upcoming season and its overall mission of supporting of original work. As an ardent supporter of local, original music, his message of fostering the classics of tomorrow today struck a chord (pun intended) with me.
"I just think it's really important to know what's going on in the world around us," Fonseca later says in an interview. "I think playwrights do that in a very compelling way. They do it in a way that's not distilled for mass consumption."
A commitment to inclusion is another integral aspect of Phoenix Theatre's mission. With this in mind, the theater's upcoming production of "Bless Me, Ultima" will include two Spanish performances. "It's very tricky to cast these shows," Fonseca says. "You have to find bilingual actors. You have to have more rehearsal time, because the actors actually have to memorize in Spanish and not just assume that on their feet they can translate in their head. So, it's a huge commitment to the project and it's definitely a challenge in its casting, but we feel that it's part of our mission to be inclusive and to give voice to many different communities. This is a growing community that we want to make sure is represented on stage."
"SPUN" will continue its run at Phoenix Theatre through Sunday, May 11. Tickets are available online and at the box office. If audiences leave with a single lesson from "SPUN," Fonseca hopes it's a recognition of the power of reconciliation. "The idea of reconciliation is so wonderful and so positive," he said. "Two young people were just holding on to such negative energy that it keeps them from being whole. We have to learn to give that up. We'll never achieve our dreams if we let those weights hold us down."