On Wednesday, April 10th, I had the opportunity to interview Phillip Chavira, alongside two other members of the TeenTix Press Corps Intensive. Chavira is the Executive Director of the Intiman Theatre and, prior to coming to Seattle, was nominated for a Tony Award for his work as co-producer on the groundbreaking Broadway play Eclipsed. Eclipsed’s cast, director and playwright were all women of color.
Beezus Murphy: Yeah, I read that you were nominated for a Tony.
Phillip Chavira: Yeah! Thank you for reading that! A Tony nomination, what do you think that means?
Beezus: Well, obviously it means that you’re really good at your job.
He shared with us his experience of growing up identifying as gay man and a self described “desert boy” in an extremely religious household in New Mexico and moving to New York at age twenty-two after abandoning a job as a youth minister, a career which just didn’t suit him.
Noah Chandler (fellow teen interviewer): On the financial side of things, how are you growing your season? It's been slowly enlarging, from the 8-week summer program/festival in 2012, to now where it's a little bit bigger.
Phillip Chavira: You did your homework! I arrived in 2017, and we had a two-play season. Then last year in 2018, we had an additional show, and we did it in partnership with an organization called ArtsWest in West Seattle, so we got to add another show. This year, we're doing three shows on our own. So each year that I've been here, we have grown the productions we do, we've grown the number of artists we hire, we've also grown how much we want to raise. So this Friday, I actually get to have a conversation with Jennifer Zeyl, my partner, on what next year looks like - how much money do we want to put out there? And it's up to me - I'm growing the budget! And how are we doing that? 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.
Chavira explained to us how the main purpose of his job is finding money for the theater. He does this by asking people, banks, charities, other companies, and the US government for money. He also talked about the Intiman Theatre’s previous financial debt of over $2 million.
Lark Keteyian (fellow teen interviewer): What were the biggest challenges of entering a theater with substantial debt?
Phillip Chavira: We acquired - meaning, we didn't pay our bills, we misappropriated funds, we misused and misspent 2.7 million dollars. I'll repeat that again: 2.7 million dollars in debt. So that was very difficult! In 2010, we realized that we couldn't pay our bills, we took almost a million dollars from our savings account and spent it on different things. I heard about the company in 2016 - that was the first time I was introduced. I used to live in New York City, I lived in Manhattan, and I heard about this organization, they were paying it down! They were working with the community to decrease that amount. And that decrease happened by reaching out to people and saying "I can pay you ten cents of the dollar.” So for every dollar we owe you we can pay ten cents of that - and some community members were like “Yes! We want you to exist; we can do that.” And we had some great people that gave a lot of money to it, to keep moving on. So to answer your question: I knew that I needed to find the money, and I knew that I needed to keep us going, to find the money to keep paying that down, and that's all I really knew. And that's a lot of money. It seems like it could be a lot of pressure, but I didn't let that stress me out every day. I had to keep doing the work. And because I believe we are doing good work, and the community has cared about us for over 45 years, I believed that we could settle that debt. And so we had $50,000 left at the end of the year in 2018, and I went to one person, who really loves us, and I said “This is the amount of money we have left to pay down,” and she said “I'll give you that money to pay it down.” She wrote a check for $50,000 the next week. So that's the power in asking people to support you! Do a good job, make a case for it, ask. And I think the Catholic response is 'ask and you shall receive.'"
Chavira also has ten years experience of working in live entertainment, securing capital donations, and providing strategic financial management to support productions. Despite all of these incredibly impressive accomplishments, Chavira remains a very open and friendly person with a warm, inviting aura and a playful sense of humor. Both Phillip Chavira and Intiman Theatre have bright futures ahead of them.
Lead photo: From left to right: Phillip Chavira, Lark Keteyian, Noah Chandler, and Beezus Murphy.
Beezus Murphy is a 9th grader at The Center School.
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.