The Phoenix Launches in Pittsburgh with BLUE/ORANGE, 11/1

By: Sep. 25, 2013
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Long-time PICT artistic director and founder, Andrew Paul and Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre founder and former director of theatre initiatives at the August Wilson Center, Mark Clayton Southers have announcEd Pittsburgh's newest professional theatre company, The Phoenix. The mission of The Phoenix is to explore the issues facing our diverse and rapidly changing world through the language of theatre. The name is purposeful. The phoenix was a mythological creature that crossed borders finding a home in many cultures from ancient Greece and Egypt to Turkey, Persia, Russia, Tibet, China and Japan. It was and is a symbol of renewal, new life emerging from the ashes of the old in a never-ending cycle of death and rebirth.

Through their work on The Phoenix, Paul and Southers seek to enhance and expand upon the depth and breadth of Pittsburgh's already excellent theatrical community. "With our world changing so quickly," they state, "it's no surprise that the theatre world would be changing as well. Demographic shifts have resulted in new audience members hungry for exciting cutting edge theatre that reflects a diverse and global perspective. We've watched these changes for several years as we've traveled to see plays together and discussed how Pittsburgh theatre could respond to them. Now, we want to be ahead of the curve leading that charge artistically not running behind it. Through The Phoenix, we propose to explore our shared vision of a new kind of Pittsburgh theatre that is not a "white" or "black" theatre but rather one that is diverse, welcoming to all and that invites our patrons to journey across borders and boundaries with us."

The Phoenix has assembled an ambitious 4-play opening season including the Pittsburgh premieres of two award-winning plays and a Tony Award-winning musical and a world premiere play by co-founder Mark Clayton Southers inspired by Strindberg's Miss Julie and re-set in the American South during the re-construction period following the Civil War. These are plays Pittsburghers would not and could not see anywhere else.

The season commences this November with Joe Penhall's Olivier Award-winning play Blue/Orange, directed by Andrew Paul and featuring David Whalen, Sam Tsoutsouvas, and newcomer Rico Parker, performing November 1-23, 2013 at the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, downtown. The Phoenix will offer three productions in 2014. J.T. Rogers spy thriller Blood and Gifts, set during the Cold War in Afghanistan plays May 8-31, 2014 at the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre. Passing Strange, the Tony Award-winning musical by Stew and Heidi Rodewald plays September 25-October 9, 2014 at the New Hazlett Theatre on Pittsburgh's Northside. Miss Julie, a world premiere by Mark Clayton Southers, inspired by Strindberg, performs October 23-November 15, 2014 at the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre.

Blue/Orange takes place in a London psychiatric hospital where an enigmatic patient claims to be the son of an African dictator - a story that becomes unnervingly plausible. It is an incendiary tale of race, madness and a Darwinian power struggle at the heart of Britain's dying National Health Service. The three-character play will be performed by well-known actors David Whalen, Sam Tsoutsouvas, and newcomer Rico Parker with Andrew Paul directing. Whalen, one of Pittsburgh's most acclaimed actors, was the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Performer of the Year in 2007. His many collaborations with director Paul include Mark Antony in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and his acclaimed portrayal of former President George W. Bush in the Pittsburgh premiere of David Hare's Stuff Happens. David recently played the title role in PICT's Don Juan Comes Back From the War and completed work on the feature film The Fault In our Stars, directed by Josh Boone and adapted from the much loved novel by John Green. Tsoutsouvas has performed leading roles on Broadway and at many of America's finest regional theatres. His recent Pittsburgh appearances include Caryl Churchill's A Number at Pittsburgh Public Theatre, Frank Llloyd Wright in Worksong at City Theatre, and Max in Stoppard's Rock'n'Roll, Antony in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra and Hirst in Pinter's No Man's Land at PICT. Rico Parker is a native of Dayton, Ohio. He has appeared as Booth in the Jubilee Theatre's (Fort Worth, Texas) Topdog/Underdog and was nominated for a Jeff Norton Award for his portrayal of Sylvester in the American Stage (Florida) production of August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Rico has appeared in Pittsburgh in VALU-MART at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre. The Phoenix has assembled a formidable design team for its debut production, with scenic design by Mark Clayton Southers, costumes by Pei-Chi Su, lights by Jim French and sound design by Elizabeth Atkinson. Production Stage Manager will be Eric A. Smith. Blue/Orange, sponsored by founding Phoenix Board Member and noted arts philanthropist Richard E. Rauh, plays November 1-23, 2013 at the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre downtown.

Blood and Gifts, described by THE TIMES (London) as "like a collaboration between John Le Carre and a disaffected renegade from The West Wing," was named one of the Top Ten plays of 2011 by both Time Magazine and The New York Times. It is 1981. As the Soviet army burns its way through Afghanistan, CIA operative Jim Warnock is sent to try to halt its bloody progress, beginning a secret spy war behind the official hostilities. Jim and his counterparts in the KGB and the British and Pakistani secret services wrestle with ever-shifting personal and political loyalties. With the outcome of the entire Cold War at stake, Jim and a larger-than-life Afghan warlord decide to place their trust in each other. Spanning a decade and playing out in Washington, D.C., Pakistan, and Afghanistan, Blood and Gifts is a sweeping, often shockingly funny epic set against one of the greatest historical events of recent history, the repercussions of which continue to shape our world. Directed by Andrew Paul, Blood and Gifts will play May 8-31, 2014 at the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre.

Passing Strange won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Musical and the 2008 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical. It is an autobiographical comedy-drama rock musical about a young African American's artistic journey of self-discovery in the European cities of Amsterdam and Berlin. Stew, who wrote the book and lyrics to Passing Strange, had never written a play before. In an interview with Berkeley Rep, where the play premiered, he said he was inspired to write the show by reading about Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, where productions were performed in front of rowdy audiences. A long-time rock musician and performer, he wanted to combine the energy of a rock show with the visual and philosophical potential of a theatre setting. The title "Passing Strange" comes from Shakespeare's Othello. An on-stage band and cast of seven actors play more than seventeen characters in the play, and in a unique example of color-blind casting, black actors play both the black and white characters. Passing Strange will be directed by Mark Clayton Southers (who earlier this year directed a critically acclaimed production of the play at Columbus's Short North Stage Co.) and runs September 25 through October 9, 2014 at The New Hazlett Theatre on Pittsburgh's Northside.

The Phoenix will complete its first season with a world premiere by Mark Clayton Southers, inspired by Strindberg's Miss Julie and re-set in the American South during the reconstruction following the Civil War. "After seeing the play in Europe," says Southers, "I became fascinated with the idea of adding race to the dangerous cocktail of class and gender politics that Strindberg explodes upon the stage. We hope that this restores the sense of shock and outrage with which audiences greeted the play's premiere." Southers is currently writing the play, which will have a week-long workshop next summer in advance of the full production. A protégée of the late August Wilson, Southers is an award-winning playwright. His play Ma Noah, recently seen at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, was the winner of the Theodore Ward Prize for African American Playwriting in 2004 and was published by Northwestern University Press. His play Angry Black Man Poetry premiered in 2009 at the Slaski Theatre in Katowice, Poland. His Culture Clash series of plays includes an Italian play, I Nipoti, a Jewish play, Hoodwinked, and an Irish play, James McBride, which premiered in 2007 in a Pittsburgh Playwrights production directed by Andrew Paul. Southers began writing plays after attending a Master Class in playwriting conducted by August Wilson at the Grahamstown Arts Festival in South Africa. Later that summer, he attended the Edward Albee Festival in Valdez, Alaska where he participated in seated readings of all of Mr. Wilson's plays. These encounters led him to take up playwriting and devote his life to a career in the theatre. Miss Julie plays October 23 through November 15, 2014 at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre.

Phoenix co-founder Andrew Paul previously co-founded the acclaimEd Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre (PICT) and served as the company's producing artistic director from 1996 to 2013. Under his leadership, PICT produced more than a hundred plays, festivals devoted to the plays of Samuel Beckett, John Millington Synge, Harold Pinter, and Anton Chekhov, and two successful international tours. His many PICT Productions as director include last year's productions of Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters, Chekhov's Ivanov, and David Ives' The School for Lies, 2011's productions of David Mamet's Race and Alan Ayckbourn's House and Garden (co-directed with Melissa Hill Grande), the 2010 productions of Shakespeare's Othello, Pinter's No Man's Land, and Harold Brighouse's Hobson's Choice, and the 2009 productions of Alan Bennett's The History Boys and Tom Stoppard's Rock'n'Roll. Andrew's 2002 production of Friel's Faith Healer starring Bingo O'Malley played to acclaim at thirteen venues in Ireland and Northern Ireland and he appeared as an actor in the 2003 production of Shaw's Major Barbara which performed 14 sold-out performances at the Galway Arts Festival and transferred to Dublin for three weeks of performances at the Pavilion Theatre. In 2008, he directed and collaborated with David Hare on the non-English language premier of Stuff Happens at the Slaski Theatre in Katowice, Poland. In 2010, Andrew was a featured speaker at the World Theatre Conference in Baku, Azerbaijan

Casting for Blood and Gifts, Passing Strange, and Miss Julie will be completed early next year.

Single tickets for Blue/Orange are available now and money-saving season subscriptions will be available soon! For tickets or subscriptions, phone or visit Showclix at 1-888-718-4253, or visit

The Phoenix - A Theatre Company's Mainstage Productions - 2013/2014 Season:

Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall

A Pittsburgh Premiere

Directed by Andrew Paul

Starring David Whalen, Sam Tsoutsouvas and Rico Parker

Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre

November 1-23, 2013

Blood and Gifts by J.T. Rogers

A Pittsburgh Premiere

Directed by Andrew Paul

Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre

May 8-31, 2014

Passing Strange

by Stew and Heidi Rodewald

A Pittsburgh Premiere

Directed by Mark Clayton Southers

The New Hazlett Theatre

September 25-October 9, 2014

Miss Julie by Mark Clayton Southers

Adapted from the play by August Strindberg

A World Premiere

Directed by Andrew Paul

Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre

October 23-November 15, 2014

Tickets: Subscriptions (4 plays): $120; Single Tickets: $38; Under 30 (with valid ID): $15; Artists : $20. Call Showclix at 1-888-718-4253 or visit THE PHOENIX online at


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