This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
INDIANAPOLIS — Bryan Fonseca, a leading theater producer in Indianapolis who challenged audiences with cutting-edge plays and was one of the city’s first impresarios to stage a show during the coronavirus pandemic, died there on Sept. 16. He was 65.
The cause was complications of Covid-19, a spokeswoman for the theater said.
Mr. Fonseca co-founded the Phoenix Theater in 1983 and led it for 35 years. It was a home for productions that might never have found a place on the city’s half-dozen more mainstream stages. His stagings shows included Terrence McNally’s exploration of a group of gay men, “Love! Valour! Compassion!” — which attracted picketers — “Human Rites,” by Seth Rozin, which deals with female circumcision, and unconventional musicals like “Urinetown” and “Avenue Q.”
He left the Phoenix Theater in 2018 after a dispute with the board and started the Fonseca Theater Company, a grass-roots theater in a working-class neighborhood on the city’s west side. The company champions work by writers of color and has a largely nonwhite staff.
Mr. Fonseca was committed to diversity because he believed that it made his productions stronger, Jordan Flores Schwartz, his company’s associate producing director, said. “He was a force for good in the lives of many, many people,” she said.
At times, Mr. Fonseca said, his choices were “too controversial for the leaders of this conservative community,” and cost him corporate and foundation sponsors. He did not care. “His personal mission was to bring diverse work to Indianapolis, because he firmly believed we deserved that, too,” Ms. Schwartz said.
After the pandemic closed theaters across the country in March, Mr. Fonseca brought live performance back to Indianapolis in July with a socially distanced production — in the theater’s parking lot — of Idris Goodwin’s “Hype Man: A Break Beat Play,” which centers on the police shooting of an unarmed young Black man.
“He always believed theater had the power to unite people,” Ms. Schwartz said. “He wanted to be part of the conversation around the Black Lives Matter protests.”
Mr. Fonseca took precautions — audience members were required to wear face coverings, and actors performed far apart from one another — but “Hype Man” was forced to close a week early when one actor developed an upset stomach, chills, sweats and a tight chest. He was tested for the virus, but the theater declined to divulge the results, citing privacy reasons.
“We won’t put anyone — actors, crew, volunteers and, most importantly, you — at risk,” Mr. Fonseca wrote to his audience in a Facebook post announcing the cancellation. A month later, the theater returned with a second outdoor production, Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm’s “Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies,” which concluded on Aug. 30.
Mr. Fonseca was quoted as saying in The New York Times in July that it was important to find ways to stage theater during the pandemic. “We’d rather go down creating good theater than die the slow death behind our desks,” he said.
He became sick in August, Ms. Schwartz said, but it was unclear how he contracted the virus. He died at an Indianapolis hospital.
Bryan Douglas Fonseca was born on Oct. 10, 1954, in Gary, Ind., to Manuel and Aggie Fonseca. His father was a railroad worker, his mother a homemaker.
After graduating from William A. Wirt High School, Mr. Fonseca became the first in his family to attend college, studying sociology and theater at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, where he also started a storefront theater. He moved to Indianapolis in 1978. He received his bachelor’s degree from Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis.
He is survived by his father; his brothers, Kevin and Bob; and a sister, Hollye Blossom.
Mr. Fonseca had a penchant for loud shirts, authentic Day of the Dead art, puppies, the music of John Prine and Christmas music (which he felt could start in as early as August). He was also a taskmaster, Ms. Blossom said.
“If you were going to be in a play with him, you were going to work,” she said. “But after he got done yelling, everyone would go out for tequila together.”