The Phoenicia Playhouse, after a year of offering only outdoor performances, is mounting its first in-the-house show since the pandemic. The David Ives play Venus in Fur, produced and performed by a new local group, Siren Theater Company, opened March 13 and will be up Friday and Saturday, March 18 and 19, at 8 p.m., with a Sunday, March 20, matinee at 2 p.m.
Meanwhile, other changes at the Phoenicia Playhouse are expected, with Michael Koegel stepping down from the role of artistic director and the addition of new board members. Koegel will remain on the board.
“Michael’s been with us 11 years,” said Allen Vella, a board member who serves as secretary. “It’s a ton of work, and he’s done a great job and brought us far in terms of the quality of performances. We’re glad he’s staying on, since he has a wealth of knowledge. We’re also excited about moving on with new energy. Last year’s Spoken Word programming showed a glimmer of what we could do.”
Vella was referring to the August workshop by Matthew Dicks, a superstar of the MOTH personal storytelling series. After a weekend of classes, participants gave a public performance of their stories that had been shaped in the workshop.
In recent years, the Playhouse has had access to professionals like Dicks through such guiding stars as Koegel, a former director and producer on Nickelodeon, and Bruce Barry, long-time director of the soap opera Guiding Light, now retired from the Playhouse board. Michael Cioffi, a local restauranteur who used to construct Broadway sets, is currently the board president. With the help of friends in the New York City theater scene, board members raised funds to renovate the outside of the theater, providing the new wraparound porch that served as a stage during the pandemic, with folding chairs set up in the street for the audience. Sound and lighting equipment were also upgraded. Many productions attracted city actors to fill key roles in performances.
Nevertheless, the Playhouse is still committed to being a community theater, said Vella, pointing out that this goal is part of its mission statement. For years, a Christmas show was offered for free on one Saturday in December. “Some people thought the Christmas show was amateurish,” said Vella, “but that’s the first thing I went to when we came up here. People I know from the community were in it. It wasn’t glitzy or sophisticated, and I loved it.”
For two weekends, the Playhouse is hosting Siren Theater Company, which Vella said has worked with a theater in Rhinebeck and is now branching out on its own. Some of the participants have been in past Phoenicia Playhouse productions. Venus in Fur is a two-person show, with Caitlin Connelly as an actress and Maclain Maier as the frustrated playwright/director who hopes he has found a leading lady for his adaptation of the 1870 novel Venus in Furs.
Since Siren has no house of its own, the Playhouse is providing a venue, part of what Vella calls the goal of “getting stuff happening all the time here, throughout the season, spring to fall.” He expects the new board members to bring ideas and diverse contacts to enliven the next round of productions.
An in-house musical is in the works, and prospects are on the horizon for shows by other companies. Plans are forming to repeat the children’s theater workshop that was a success in 2018, when it was run by Barry Kerr and Tori McCarthy, who have both passed away. Kerr bequeathed funding to continue the program, which introduces children to the theater, as they mount their own production with expert guidance.
As always, the Playhouse is looking for volunteers to help with set building, publicity, ushering, box office, and stage managing.
The Phoenicia Playhouse presents Venus in Fur by David Ives on Friday and Saturday, March 18 and 19, at 8 p.m., with a Sunday, March 20, matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20, available at https://phoeniciaplayhouse.com/. Masks are required. The theater is located at 10 Church Street in Phoenicia.