Indianapolis theater returns after tragedy
INDIANAPOLIS – On a windy 80 degree evening with the sun still in the sky, actor Chandra Lynch walked towards the center of the Fonseca Theater Companythe open air scene. Behind its back was a semicircle of oversized blocks, each with printed words that together formed the phrase “Darkness is not a monolith.”
She turned to face a section of a dozen mostly white spectators, part of the 50-strong sold-out crowd on opening night.
“White people call what I’m about to do ‘exhibition’,” she said, her mouth visible through a transparent face shield. “But black people in the audience know I’m about to preach.”
The Fonseca Theater, located in a working-class neighborhood in the west of the city with more than 80% of the cast being people of color, hosted its first show on Friday night since its founder, Bryan Fonseca, died of complications from Covid-19 in September latest.
And not just any show – the world premiere of Rachel Lynett’s play “Apologies to Lorraine Hansberry (You Too August Wilson)”, a metafictional meditation on black that was recently released. selected as the winner of the 2021 Yale Drama Series Award, one of the most prestigious awards for playwrights.
“This piece allows us to be 100%, without any excuse, Black,” said Latrice Young, who plays Jules, a young queer woman who is angry with the rules of her all-black community. “There aren’t a lot of spaces outside of the home environment where I can do this.”
Friday’s sold-out premiere, held in the theater parking lot, was the culmination of an almost nine-month trip to the stage after Fonseca’s death – and one of the first shows to take place hold in Indianapolis since the pandemic closed theaters across the country. in March 2020.
And it was far from easy. Theater production manager Jordan Flores Schwartz, 27, had to adapt to play the top dog role she it was not expected to take years. Then the comeback was pushed back for two weeks after rain delays put the theater behind the set’s construction – and two of the actors tested positive for the coronavirus four days. before the opening night.
“It’s been a journey,” said Schwartz, who is juggling his new role with courses for a master’s degree in dramaturgy from Indiana University. “But it was never a question of whether we would continue. We had.”
Fonseca had long enjoyed a reputation as one of the most daring producers in the Indianapolis theater scene. He co-founded the Phoenix Theater in 1983, which became a hotbed for productions that might never have found a place on the city’s half-dozen mainstream stages.
His shows included Terrence McNally’s exploration of a group of gay men, “Love! Value! Compassion! “- who attracted the picketers – “Human Rites”, by Seth Rozin, which deals with female circumcision, and quirky musicals like “Urinetown” and “Avenue Q.”
“His personal mission was to bring diverse work to Indianapolis because he firmly believed we deserved it too,” said Schwartz.
She and Fonseca had been a team since 2016, when he hired her at the Phoenix as a summer intern while she was working on her Masters of Arts in Administration at the University of Oregon – one of the rare paid internships available in the industry, she mentioned.
And when he left the Phoenix in 2018 after 35 years following a dispute with the board of directors, she became a collaborator at his next company: the Fonseca Theater Company, a popular theater in a working-class neighborhood that defends the work of writers of color. . The theater, which has an annual budget of around $ 180,000, still often performs to a predominantly white audience, although Schwartz said the share of people of color attending is increasing.
Fonseca once considered setting up a community center in the next building, with a cafe, free Wi-Fi, space for classes and gatherings, and laundry and shower facilities open to all.
“He really wanted to give the neighborhood a seat at the table,” said Schwartz, who said 10 percent of the company’s audience members were from the surrounding communities of Haughville, Hawthorne, Stringtown and WeCare.
Fonseca became one of the first producers in town to resume performing during the coronavirus pandemic last July, when he staged a socially distanced production of Idris’ “Hype Man: A Break Beat Play” Goodwin, which focuses on the police shooting of an unarmed youth. Black man in the theater parking lot.
“He always believed that the theater had the power to unite people,” Schwartz told The New York Times last summer. “He wanted to participate in the conversation around the Black Lives Matter protests.”
Fonseca took precautions, such as requiring masks and locating actors and audience members six feet apart, but “Hype Man” was forced to shut down a week earlier after one of the actors got sick. He was tested for the virus, but the theater refused to release the results, citing confidentiality.
Fonseca fell ill in August, Schwartz said. He died a little over a month later, a few weeks after the theater completed a second production, “Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies” by Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm. (She said it was unclear how he contracted the virus.)
He had already scheduled the theater to take a hiatus, a decision that turned out to be premonitory when Schwartz, who had just started his masters program, took on the role of interim production manager.
But there was never any question of whether the theater would continue after his death, argued Schwartz, who is Mexican-American and Jewish and has long worked in bilingual community and children’s theater.
She began plotting an outdoor season of four performances of ambitious pieces by Quiara Alegria Hudes, Fernanda Coppel and Carla Ching, all women of color. One script in particular jumped at her – Lynett’s “Apologies,” a play she first read in March 2020, and which seemed newly relevant in light of racial justice protests and accounts in the industry. theater.
The play is set after a second civil war, in the fictional world of Bronx Bay, an all-black state dedicated to protecting “Blackness”. Five residents debate what makes someone black enough to live in their community – conversations that allow Lynett to stress that darkness is not a monolithic experience.
But unlike “Fairview” or “Slave Play” – two works that Lynett says she admires – hers is not aimed at white viewers. It’s about finding black joy, she said in a video chat hosted by the theater.
“What does it mean to be a black woman who is sexually assaulted on stage every night in front of a predominantly white audience?” she added. “I wanted to write a play that really avoids trauma.”
Just to start
In April, the theater board voted to promote Schwartz to full-fledged production manager, the former role of Fonseca. And the company has raised about half of the $ 500,000 it needs to create the community center, which it hopes to start construction by fall.
But the biggest milestone has already been crossed: the return on stage.
The end of the play, according to the script, is the most important part. He calls on the five actors to each answer the question, like themselves: “What does Blackness mean to you?”
On Friday night, Josiah McCruiston, whose character Izaak often provides comedic relief, picked up one of the blocks, labeled “Monolith,” and carried it to the center of the stage.
“I feel this piece helps me scream at the top of my lungs about who I am,” he said. “Because I am black, I have a history, which I am rich, complex and deep. But I still think some white eyes will say I was funny.
Aniqua Chatman, another actor, said: “I can say, ‘Darkness is not a monolith’, but I still feel the white eyes staring at me.”
Then Chinyelu Mwaafrika said, “White people raise your hand.” Thirty hands went up.
“I say racism, you say sorry,” he said. “Racism.”
With that, the play ended and the chorus was replaced by applause.