100 Creatives

Rosemary Close of iTheatre Collaborative on Why Phoenix Needs Indie Theater

Every other year, New Times puts the spotlight on Phoenix's creative forces — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. Leading up to the release of Best of Phoenix, we're taking a closer look at 100 more. Welcome to the 2016 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today is 72. Rosemary Close.

Ask Rosemary Close what her greatest accomplishment is, and the answer comes easy. 

"Starting a nonprofit theater company on the back of a napkin in 2002 at Justin’s Ragin’ Cajun restaurant up on Cave Creek Road," the she says, adding, "And 14 years later, becoming a resident theater company at the Herberger Theater Center."

The twofold achievement is worthy, like her company's many productions, of applause. Close is the cofounder with Christopher Haines of iTheatre Collaborative, a Phoenix theater company with a reputation for presenting high quality shows and garnering acclaim for its willingness to take risks. 

Close, 59, serves as managing director of the company, which is a nonprofit. It's very much like running a business, she explains, as "each show has its own budget and costs and administrative challenges. And there is always the challenge of getting butts in the seats and finding sustainable funding to maintain the season."

And, of course, she adds, there's "a great deal of play reading, casting actors, directors, rehearsals, creating sets, and lighting designs. I’m not sure people realize the work, the passion and the thought that goes into every theater show you may see."

But bringing plays like Grounded, a one-woman show about an air force pilot who becomes pregnant and is transferred to operating drones, is what makes all the work worth it for Close. 

"I started a theater company because there were too many musicals, too many Neil Simon comedies, too many murder mysteries being produced. That kind of work has its place, but not the sole place. Phoenix is a big city. If I needed a place to work that didn’t fit into the mainstream, then I knew there were other artists here that needed the same thing. What I have learned, after 13 seasons, is there is a huge contingent of artists who agree with me."

Indeed, she says, an independent theater company that's in it for the long haul — and in Phoenix — is not just a great accomplishment for her, but it's a big deal for the Valley's theater community. 

"Our community has been dwindling fast for the past six years with government funding cuts and attendance numbers way down; the larger theater companies are struggling," Close says. "So as a cowgirl from Prescott, Arizona, to successfully start a theater company 14 years ago, make it through the recession and watch it become a resident company at the Herberger, I feel pretty accomplished."

Nearly 15 years into iTheatre Collaborative's creative life, she says this is only the beginning. 

I came to Phoenix with my five older siblings and my parents from Prescott, Arizona, where I was born. All my other siblings where born in Phoenix. My father was born in the west side of Phoenix in 1927. I have a huge amount of family spread out all over Arizona. I was born in Prescott, raised on a small ranch raising chickens, a few cattle and thoroughbreds. At a very young age we moved to Phoenix, where I showed horses and sheep through 4-H and went to a Catholic grade school and high school. Sounds like the making of an artist to you? Not hardly. I was surrounded by true cowboys who, to this day, drive cattle from Arizona to Las Vegas. And yet, my family is made up of cowboy poets, painters, authors, musicians, and storytellers who wrote and sang about life with true heart and compassion. I have worked in theater in the Valley for over 30 years. I started performing in theater in the 1980s: from Glendale Little Theater to StageBrush to Theater Works, even Phoenix Little Theater, when it was called that. So, I’ve been here for a long time as a theater artist watching this Valley grow and evolve.

I make art because I believe I can make an impact on my community by creating something that makes them think. I am a provocateur. My art is different because I have nothing tangible to give, only the performance, the experience and, of course, a playbill. I love creating an experience that is relevant, that people talk about, converse with others, cry, laugh or even disagree with, that is my motivation. What is happening around us can always teach us about ourselves, and maybe learn to be better humans.

I’m most productive at daybreak, so can you image the conflict inside me since my work is at night.

My inspirational wall is full of current events. Posters of the shows I’ve produced and my next dentist appointment.

I’ve learned most from Christopher Haines, the co-founder and artistic director for iTheatre Collaborative. He is an artist first and foremost, and his work ethics is of the highest integrity and professionalism. He has his finger on the pulse of what is happening in the theater world today and brings it to the stage.

Good work should always be reworked and reworked and reworked… or, maybe, just left alone for a while.

The Phoenix creative scene could use more leaders. The theater scene in Phoenix is that of old school, playing it safe with the type of shows they pick in hopes of filling the seats once again. One of the reasons for starting iTheatre was the type of work I did wasn’t here in Phoenix. The opportunity to grow and develop as an artist in Phoenix was limited for me, and the type of work I do. In the early 1990s, I had the opportunity to work with Lee Breuer, founder of Mabou Mines in NYC, one of the greatest avant garde theater artists ever. I studied writing/performance at ASU West’s Interdisciplinary Arts and Performance program with Lee. Through him, I was hooked on that kind of work. He was a leader in the way that he welcomed anyone who wanted to explore and create. Egos were left at the door. It was all about the art and to hell with anyone else or what they thought about your art. 

The 2016 Creatives so far:

100. Nicole Olson
99. Andrew Pielage
98. Jessica Rowe
97. Danny Neumann
96. Beth Cato
95. Jessie Balli
94. Ron May
93. Leonor Aispuro
92. Sarah Waite
91. Christina "Xappa" Franco
90. Christian Adame
89. Tara Sharpe
88. Patricia Sannit
87. Brian Klein
86. Dennita Sewell
85. Garth Johnson
84. Charissa Lucille
83. Ryan Downey
82. Samantha Thompson
81. Cherie Buck-Hutchison
80. Freddie Paull
79. Jennifer Campbell
78. Dwayne Hartford
77. Shaliyah Ben
76. Kym Ventola
75. Matthew Watkins
74. Tom Budzak
73. Rachel Egboro
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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski