Phoenix Rising

Seasoned theater vets Andrew S. Paul and Mark Clayton Southers team up to give Pittsburgh a new kind of theater via The Phoenix.






Photos by Renee Rosensteel
 

 

In Pittsburgh’s theater circles, most everyone is once removed from each other. This held true for Andrew S. Paul and Mark Clayton Southers, who initially met through the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s longtime theater critic, Christopher Rawson.

In 2007, Paul directed Southers’ play “James McBride” at the latter’s company, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co. The two artistic directors then traveled together to Ireland and Poland, and they shared connections and projects.

Last fall, they created their own venture, The Phoenix – A Theater Company, after both men experienced career changes. In February 2013, the board of Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre dismissed Paul, its co-founder and artistic director, who had helped to build the respected company that debuted in 1996. PICT cited Paul’s practice since 2011 of dividing his time between western Pennsylvania and Las Vegas, where his wife works and his children live. In theory, Paul could have left Pittsburgh behind last winter. He didn’t.

“I’ve always been nomadic,” says Paul, who has lived in Italy and Scotland and travels regularly to Europe. “But I lived in Pittsburgh for the better part of two decades. It’s always felt like home because I developed my career there. In theater, you build up a following and an audience and a support network. The people you like to work with work in the same town.”

In 2003, Southers — a playwright, director and performer — founded Pittsburgh Playwrights, which presents local dramatists’ scripts and has mounted a number of African-American works. In 2013, Southers experienced his own administrative woes when he attempted to run the theater program at the financially troubled August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

“When you’re a founder, an artistic director, there’s a certain sense of pride,” he says. Last year, Southers presented a proposition to his peer: If Paul wanted to launch a new company, he could headquarter it in Pittsburgh Playwrights’ black box. For Paul, that meant he’d be working with a smaller budget in a smaller space — but he didn’t mind.

The duo’s aptly named company, The Phoenix, premiered in November with Joe Penhall’s “Blue/Orange,” a dramedy about a mental patient who believes he is the son of an African dictator.

Local theater critics raved about the production. The play’s racial undertones were important to Paul and Southers, who aim to bridge the crevasse between African-American and conventional theater.

“Mark and I immediately latched onto the idea of diversity,” recalls Paul. “It’s not just black-white. That’s a big thing in American theater right now — having a more international perspective.”

What’s striking about The Phoenix is that it opened strong, yet its mission and audience haven’t yet connected fully. Similar to many drama graduates, Paul and Southers are venturing into the unknown. In the autumn, they plan to produce the unconventional, award-winning musical “Passing Strange” about an African-American man who travels to Europe in search of his roots. Southers also intends to adapt a Civil War-themed revision of the 1888 August Strindberg play “Miss Julie.”

“We’re developing it as we go,” says Paul. “PICT was the same way. We didn’t know what it was going to become when we started it.”

“I think the workload is even,” says Southers, who alternates between the roles of producer and creative force. “I don’t have a problem being Robin to his Batman. I think [mounting] three good plays a season is great. In doing that, we can have a good, solid theater company. We came through the gates with a bang.”

Following years of working with more funds — and room — Paul is enjoying Playwrights’ intimate environment.

“I’ve always liked to do plays of different sizes and scales,” he says. “Mark’s space is really alive. It makes the live experience so much more visceral. ‘Blue/Orange’ was basically done in the round — three actors, limited scenery. I liked that. If it’s not risky and a little bit dangerous, I think it’s impossible to put on meaningful things.”
 

A Changing Season

Picking a freshman lineup can be tough for any theater company. Paul and Southers originally hoped to stage “Blood and Gifts” this month. Because J.T. Rogers’ drama about 1980s Afghanistan was too ambitious a project for 2014, they revised their schedule:
 

  • Workshops / first two weeks of May: As a primer, The Phoenix will host a series of sessions on “Miss Julie, Clarissa and John,” which it plans to stage this fall.

 

  • “Romance” / July 17-Aug. 3: The Phoenix will mount “Romance” by bare-knuckled dramatist David Mamet. Before his dismissal from PICT, Paul directed the Pittsburgh premiere of Mamet’s play “Race,” to great acclaim.

 

  • “Passing Strange” / Sept. 25-Oct. 9: Stew and Heidi Rodewald’s groundbreaking musical explores race, heritage and a globalized world.

 

  • “Miss Julie, Clarissa and John” / Oct. 23-Nov. 15: Southers adapts the shocking drama about lust and gender and resets it on a Civil War plantation.


Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

A History of Pittsburgh, in 50 Artifacts

A History of Pittsburgh, in 50 Artifacts

For a city only two centuries old, Pittsburgh has amassed a surprising amount of history. To assemble this collection of 50 of the region’s most fascinating historical artifacts, we hunted through museums, archives and private collections. We also looked for things many of us might pass each day without appreciating their significance.
The Origins of Isaly’s: It's Not What You Think

The Origins of Isaly’s: It's Not What You Think

Tracing the story of the chain back to its roots — which, surprisingly, are not in Pittsburgh.
In the Frame: Julie Sokolow Sees the Future

In the Frame: Julie Sokolow Sees the Future

After making films focused on Pittsburgh, Sokolow is rising through the ranks of U.S. women documentarians.
Restaurant Review: Salem's Market & Grill in the Strip District

Restaurant Review: Salem's Market & Grill in the Strip District

Salem’s offers accessible and delicious meals for Pittsburghers of all stripes.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

The Fascinating History of the David McCullough Bridge

The Fascinating History of the David McCullough Bridge

More than 80 years after its demise was erroneously reported, the David McCullough Bridge still stands as an engineering and architectural highlight among the city’s many spans.
Gone Viral: Duquesne Students Score Big With Rat Slapshot

Gone Viral: Duquesne Students Score Big With Rat Slapshot

Their tic-tac-toe passing would impress Mike Sullivan.
1,000 Points Earns Crosby His Own Primanti Bros. Sandwich

1,000 Points Earns Crosby His Own Primanti Bros. Sandwich

Unlike previous Penguins-inspired sandwiches, Crosby’s “The Captain” could be on the menu for years to come.
Pittsburghers Get Fewer Robocalls Than The National Average

Pittsburghers Get Fewer Robocalls Than The National Average

Next time you get a call from a telemarketer, just be thankful you don’t live in Atlanta.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

A History of Pittsburgh, in 50 Artifacts

A History of Pittsburgh, in 50 Artifacts

For a city only two centuries old, Pittsburgh has amassed a surprising amount of history. To assemble this collection of 50 of the region’s most fascinating historical artifacts, we hunted through museums, archives and private collections. We also looked for things many of us might pass each day without appreciating their significance.
The Origins of Isaly’s: It's Not What You Think

The Origins of Isaly’s: It's Not What You Think

Tracing the story of the chain back to its roots — which, surprisingly, are not in Pittsburgh.
In the Frame: Julie Sokolow Sees the Future

In the Frame: Julie Sokolow Sees the Future

After making films focused on Pittsburgh, Sokolow is rising through the ranks of U.S. women documentarians.
Restaurant Review: Salem's Market & Grill in the Strip District

Restaurant Review: Salem's Market & Grill in the Strip District

Salem’s offers accessible and delicious meals for Pittsburghers of all stripes.
Pittsburgh Penguins Share Tips for Parenting on Ice

Pittsburgh Penguins Share Tips for Parenting on Ice

In a year when youth-hockey participation is expected to increase, Pittsburgh Penguins players weigh in on the role of the hockey parent.
Face the Frost: Go Daytripping on Winter Hikes in Pittsburgh

Face the Frost: Go Daytripping on Winter Hikes in Pittsburgh

There’s a magical, snowy landscape right in your backyard.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


The Fascinating History of the David McCullough Bridge

The Fascinating History of the David McCullough Bridge

More than 80 years after its demise was erroneously reported, the David McCullough Bridge still stands as an engineering and architectural highlight among the city’s many spans.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
CSA Day Reminds Pittsburghers (and Beyond) To Support Local Farms

CSA Day Reminds Pittsburghers (and Beyond) To Support Local Farms

It's the third year running for the concept, which was created by Simon Huntley of Pittsburgh's Small Farm Central.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

These spots are tailored for couples who are looking for a simple, chill night out on Valentine’s Day (or any other day). If your significant other isn’t the type to be wooed by expensive wines and chocolates, this is the list for you.

Comments


Adventure Bingo Returns at the Ace Hotel

Adventure Bingo Returns at the Ace Hotel

The one-of-a-kind night of bingo, trivia and madcap monologues returns in a new spot.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Dave Hanson and the Enduring Legacy of Slap Shot

Dave Hanson and the Enduring Legacy of Slap Shot

The Hanson Brothers and other stars of the classic hockey film will return to Johnstown this weekend for a 40th anniversary celebration.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Tantalizing Textiles for the Table

Tantalizing Textiles for the Table

Check out the chic decor from Pittsburgh-based artist and designer Janice Nelson.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Great Wall Crumbles, Fist Fight Whiffs

Great Wall Crumbles, Fist Fight Whiffs

Reviews of "The Great Wall" and "Fist Fight," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Our Favorite Unique Centerpiece (That’s Not Flowers)

Our Favorite Unique Centerpiece (That’s Not Flowers)

This couple’s centerpiece from our Real Pittsburgh Weddings shines brighter than the traditional table bouquet.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
The Candle Lab Ready To Make Its Debut in Lawrenceville

The Candle Lab Ready To Make Its Debut in Lawrenceville

The Columbus-based store, where you can customize your own candle fragrance, is expected to open in March.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Get a Behind-the-Scenes Look at ‘Fences’

Get a Behind-the-Scenes Look at ‘Fences’

An art director from Warner Bros. Studios will visit La Roche College to talk about the Oscar-nominated film with ties to Pittsburgh.

Comments