by Justin Brady
Mass Ave experienced a huge month in June flexing its prowess as one of the city's top areas for entertainment and dining. The avenue exploded last Tuesday as the host of Indy's World Cup viewing party mere weeks after serving as the mecca for the Circle City Pride Parade. Meanwhile the culinary options expanded with the arrival of Pizzology, Nine Irish Brothers and Union 52 to the neighborhood. At the once-desolate 800 block, work began on the new Pattern store adding to the Trail Side's recent opening of Natural Born Juicers and Homespun. New residential construction continues to surround the area, showing no end to growth in sight.
These are all great, exciting things, but Mass Ave's recent growth spurt is a long time in the making that began with its designation as the city's Arts and Theater District. I'll be honest, the past couple months you've been more likely to find me soaking up the sun on a Mass Ave patio while my cultural calendar has taken a break, but now that the lovely Midwest humidity is in full effect, I will be more than happy to seek out shelter at a theater. While many performing arts seasons are on break over the summer, Mass Ave theaters all offer plenty of opportunities to come inside and cool off with a show.
When Mass Ave was just a fledgling neighborhood, The Phoenix Theatre bravely claimed its stake in the community. Now 30 years later it's still showcasing thought-provoking contemporary performances. The Phoenix's current season has explored dysfunctional relationships from just about every angle. The season closes with Miles and Ellie, a play that will once again mine this territory, this time reuniting high school sweethearts 20 years later. The small ensemble cast is rich with talent and lead in direction by Bill Simmons, who performed in the world premiere production at the Purple Rose Theatre Company in Michigan. Miles and Ellie runs July 10 - Aug. 10 at The Phoenix Theatre.
Theatre on the Square
Theatre on the Square got started in 1988 in Fountain Square, but it quickly made its way to Mass Ave. Despite its former locale being part of the name, it's hard to imagine the theater's lively flair not being part of the Mass Ave landscape. Artistic Director and founder Ron Spencer only spends part of his time in Indianapolis these days, but returned to close the season by directing and acting in Superior Donuts. Tracy Letts, perhaps best known for August Osage County, tackles the power of friendship in this comedy. Superior Donuts runs July 11 - Aug. 2 at Theatre on the Square.
Bob Harbin has a long tenure at The Athenaeum, first directing the former American Cabaret Theatre and now his own theatre company Bobidrex. This July he continues the company's annual summer musical tradition there with Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical. As always, Harbin has recruited a stellar ensemble that should make this a highpoint of the summer arts calendar. And while I don't know much about Hair, I am hoping it will reinforce my theory that hipsters are just hippies in flannel instead of tie-dye. Hair runs July 5 - 20 at The Athenaeum. A few other arts groups should also be noted here.
The Old National Centre
While Mass Ave thrives supporting local culture, I would be remiss to not mention its most notable landmark. The Old National Centre provides an opportunity to take in a wide array of touring talents including music, Broadway and comedy acts. This month's lineup includes Rick Springfield, The Fray and Jenny Lewis.
While still the youngest on the block, IndyFringe will prove its longevity when it hosts the 10th Annual IndyFringe Festival in August. Meanwhile, the group's building continues to provide a venue year-round for emerging theater groups, storytelling and other offbeat performances. In July at the IndyFringe Theatre you can catch Defiance Comedy's Spaceship To Nowhere on July 9 and Spoken Word Wednesday on July 16.