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 Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

We scoured the region to bring you 53 items we’ve deemed this year’s “Best of the ’Burgh,” as well as 8 stellar local Instagram accounts you don’t want to miss.
See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

After writing for seven years about the city for Pittsburgh Magazine and pittsburghmagazine.com, Virginia Montanez is discontinuing her blog and column.
Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

The restaurant at Ace Hotel in East Liberty hits some high notes as it finds itself.
Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

During her final season of professional basketball, Cash remains ferocious on the court and selfless everywhere else.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Our JazzLive International Festival Cheat-Sheet

Our JazzLive International Festival Cheat-Sheet

We break down each day of the festival so you don’t have to improv your way through it.
Avatar-inspired Cirque Du Soleil Show Takes Off in Pittsburgh

Avatar-inspired Cirque Du Soleil Show Takes Off in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Magazine has a backstage view of “Toruk: The First Flight,” which runs this week at Consol Energy Center.
Mellon Square Restoration Wins Docomomo US Design of Excellence Award

Mellon Square Restoration Wins Docomomo US Design of Excellence Award

The Pittsburgh Park Conservancy and City of Pittsburgh, in partnership with Heritage Landscapes, are recognized with the distinguished national design award for their restoration of Mellon Square, Downtown.
Ice-Cream Alert: Graeter's Scoop Shop to Open in Wexford

Ice-Cream Alert: Graeter's Scoop Shop to Open in Wexford

The 145-year-old Cincinnati-based ice-cream business will open its first Pennsylvania scoop-shop in July.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

We scoured the region to bring you 53 items we’ve deemed this year’s “Best of the ’Burgh,” as well as 8 stellar local Instagram accounts you don’t want to miss.
See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

After writing for seven years about the city for Pittsburgh Magazine and pittsburghmagazine.com, Virginia Montanez is discontinuing her blog and column.
Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

The restaurant at Ace Hotel in East Liberty hits some high notes as it finds itself.
Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

During her final season of professional basketball, Cash remains ferocious on the court and selfless everywhere else.
Idol Find: Pittsburgh Rapper Teams Up with Dad Jimmy McNichol for New Show

Idol Find: Pittsburgh Rapper Teams Up with Dad Jimmy McNichol for New Show

Research led Kellee Maize to discover she is the daughter of the former teen singing sensation. Now she and McNichol are teaming up to develop a television series to help other parents and children find each other.
Daytripping: Rating the Roller Coasters at Cedar Point

Daytripping: Rating the Roller Coasters at Cedar Point

One day, 18 roller coasters, four queasy stomachs, two cheeseburgers, one fried dough … whew.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Our JazzLive International Festival Cheat-Sheet

Our JazzLive International Festival Cheat-Sheet

We break down each day of the festival so you don’t have to improv your way through it.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour Stops In Pittsburgh

James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour Stops In Pittsburgh

Justin Severino and Hilary Prescott Severino of Cure and Morcilla organized the event, which featured celebrated chefs from DC, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

Grab your kits, scarfs and get ready to watch the Euro 2016 Pittsburgh-style. We'll show you where to go to get your fan on.

Comments


Beer Cults and Brick Ovens: An Evening at Fuel & Fuddle

Beer Cults and Brick Ovens: An Evening at Fuel & Fuddle

The restaurant and bar in Oakland welcomes college students and locals alike.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Perspective Accompanies Long-Awaited Second Crosby Cup

Perspective Accompanies Long-Awaited Second Crosby Cup

The Pittsburgh Penguins may be more poised to establish a dynasty in 2016 than they were in 2009.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Add a Bygone Beacon to Your Living Room

Add a Bygone Beacon to Your Living Room

Vintage signs can add a pop of personality to your decor.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Demons, Orcs, Hipsters and More at the Multiplex

Demons, Orcs, Hipsters and More at the Multiplex

Reviews of "The Conjuring 2," "Warcraft," "Maggie's Plan," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
True to Tradition: Incorporating Your Heritage at Your Wedding

True to Tradition: Incorporating Your Heritage at Your Wedding

Honoring tradition at weddings is important for many couples, whether that means including heirlooms and unique customs or hosting a full-blown second ceremony.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Decor Calling: Home Furnishings Go Mobile

Decor Calling: Home Furnishings Go Mobile

House15143 is Sewickley debuts “House Calls,” a mobile Airstream designed to bring the shopping experience to you (or an event near you).

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Summer Robotics Camp Offered to High-School Students

Summer Robotics Camp Offered to High-School Students

The camp is a collaboration between two area universities and is open to students entering grades 9-12.

Comments