Broadway or 2.7 Million Dollar Debt? The Ballad of Phillip Chavira

Interview with Phillip Chavira, Executive Director of Intiman Theatre.

Written by Lark Keteyian, during TeenTix’s Beyond the Review Press Corps Intensive.

Philip photo

"The biggest question is, why would I come to Seattle after that?"

Phillip Chavira used to be a Broadway producer. His job was to raise money to invest in shows, and if they made a profit he got paid—which was rare, but glamorous when it happened. In 2016, he was nominated for a Tony Award for co-producing ECLIPSED, a play about the Second Liberian Civil War with an all women of color cast, director, and playwright. He worked with Stephen C. Byrd and Alia Jones-Harvey, the only current African-American producers on Broadway. But in 2017, he moved across the country to work with a theater company struggling to get out from under its 2.7 million dollar debt.

Chavira is now the executive director of Intiman Theatre, which, as of January 2019, is officially debt-free. He acts as chief financial officer, raising money for the upcoming season. (Intiman raises all the money it needs for each play in advance.) The theater also works with the community by facilitating partnerships, financial and otherwise; their upcoming play The Events deals closely with grief, and Intiman has partnered with a community of therapists to ensure that they know what to do in case the show triggers anyone involved.

"If I've learned anything about business, it's that it's very similar to your real life," says Chavira. "It's all relationships—are you calling people back? Are you saying thank you? Are you being realistic about your expectations? You've got to earn their trust."

Out of all the theaters that he was looking at around the country in 2017, Chavira chose Intiman because of its commitment to community and racial equity. It was invested in putting and keeping people of color onstage, backstage, and in executive positions, and it has a community that has supported them for over forty-five years, even as it tried to retire millions of dollars in debt, which drew Chavira to the position.

As the executive director he works in close partnership with Jennifer Zeyl, the current artistic director—Zeyl finds the plays and crew, and Chavira goes to play readings and figures out how much the shows are going to cost. He keeps his investment in social justice alive through funding programs that have an underlying goal of social justice—like Intiman's STARFISH PROJECT, an educational program focused on training youth of color in backstage storytelling—and by ensuring that the plays in Intiman's season have values that match up with his own.

This attention to the community is just one more example of Intiman's and Chavira's commitment to the Seattle area. It might seem difficult to care for the community and keep the theater afloat at the same time, but Chavira says that's exactly how it works.

"How are we doing that?" Chavira asks. "Because we believe in ourselves, we have a board that believes in us, we have strong goals, strong commitments to community, and we're learning how to raise those funds."

Lead photo credit: Naomi Ishisaka

This article was written as part of the Beyond the Review Press Corps Intensive.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about other Press Corps programs including the Teen Editorial Staff or the TeenTix Newsroom, see HERE.

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