Christopher J. Murphy
Christopher J. Murphy is one of the area’s most prolific and reliable actors, directors and producers. With well over 200 productions to his credit (he lost track several years ago when his computer crashed and he lost his database) he is, perhaps, the hardest working man in Fort Wayne show business.
“I spend more hours of my week than I even want to count up working in the theatre,” he says.
During the day he is the director of theater at Blackhawk Middle School, where he has been for 10 years, directing two Broadway-style musicals and one play every season. By night he can be found onstage or behind the scenes in one production or another almost nonstop. He is usually working on multiple projects simultaneously.
He recently finished producing ARCH’s haunted tours, selecting, rehearsing and organizing the tour guides and serving as a tour guide himself. He also freelances as a director at various community theaters, most recently First Presbyterian Theater where he directed The Fox on the Fairway. Just for fun, he is starring (for the third time) in The Man Who Came to Dinner for the University of Saint Francis while he rehearses his students in It’s a Wonderful Life which opens a week after the USF show closes.
Then comes his next major gig, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s Holiday Pops, which he has produced/directed for the past three years.
“I help program and stage the chorus, children’s choir, four super talented Cincinnati Conservatory performers, even Santa,” he says. “I have a hand in structuring, writing and staging the entire show.”
One of the CCM cast members, Christine Cornish-Smith, will be choreographing the dance numbers based on general concepts from Murphy. The cast rehearses in Cincinnati with frequent communication from Murphy in Fort Wayne. “The rest of the cast definitely plays a role in it too,” he says, “as we want them to show off their best skills. They work very hard to get as much of their choreography down as possible before arriving in Fort Wayne so that we can spend their time here staging the rest of the show as quickly as possible.”
Following that he will produce (and narrate) two family series concerts for The Phil, bringing him to Blackhawk’s spring musical and directing Company at Arena Dinner Theatre. In the summer he will direct another musical at Blackhawk and will travel the country teaching at fine arts camps from Kendallville to Texas.
“I’m tired just reading this schedule!” he says.
His career would seem to leave little time for a personal life. Fortunately, he has an understanding wife. He met Emilie Henry during a production of Peter Pan at the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre. He was Captain Hook; she was Wendy. They stayed in contact through theater connections (he taught her younger siblings, who were involved in theater at Blackhawk). She left Fort Wayne to attend Columbia College in Chicago, then worked professionally in regional theaters in Florida. They lost touch until she moved back to Fort Wayne in 2010.
“I sent her a random e-mail inviting her to audition for my Christmas production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood at Arena Dinner Theatre,” he recalls. “At the very last minute, she walked through the door, gave a great audition and was cast.”
During the rehearsal process, he says, “we somehow and unexpectedly found ourselves mutually smitten.”
They began dating, became engaged a year later and married the following year (a year ago December, in fact).
They had a mildly theater-inspired wedding, which included playbill-themed programs. “Our theatrical backgrounds and creativity definitely came in handy in the organization and planning of the whole thing,” he says. “I very much approached it the same way I would producing a show.”
They have continued to work together, both as fellow actors (she plays his long-suffering secretary in The Man Who Came to Dinner) and he has directed her in numerous productions (The 39 Steps and Boeing-Boeing at Arena).
“I’m lucky to have an ‘in’ to get such a wonderful actress to audition for me pretty regularly,” he says.
His wife isn’t the only actor who regularly works with him. His professionalism, organization, creativity and experience draws Fort Wayne’s most talented to auditions, and he routinely wins directing and acting awards at Arena Dinner Theatre.
But for all his experience and influence, he doesn’t have a theatre degree.
His interest in theater began when he was a toddler. “When my parents divorced and my mother went back to work,” he explains, “I spent my days with my grandparents. With no other kids around with whom to play, role-playing – running my own little store or restaurant out of grandma’s kitchen – was my escape, my entertainment, and my fun.”
He parlayed that interest into theater when he was a middle schooler at Blackhawk where he now teaches. “[Our theater program is] very advanced for a middle school,” he says. “Elaine Nickell-Fabyanic ran the program when I was a student, and she first inspired and taught me my craft. I am honored to carry on that tradition and continue teaching these young artists the art of theater.”
But he was the first in his family to perform onstage. However, he says, “I come from a very funny family, and I learned at their feet. My maternal grandfather, in particular, was what I call a great ‘living room entertainer.’”
Directing happened by accident for Murphy. As a high school student at Snider, he was in an acting class that led a children’s theater troupe. They voted on one student to be the director, but that person lacked the necessary leadership skills. “I just kind of naturally filled the void,” he says. “I didn’t try to take over – I didn’t even want to take over. It just seemed that my skill set suited me to do so.”
He says it not only allowed him to use the best parts of his left and right brains, but it appealed to his “control freak nature.” But most of all, he says, “there is nothing I find more satisfying than collaborating and giving a really great actor the tools and the environment in which to do their thing and shine.”
Not content to simply direct, Murphy found himself asked to produce as well. This allows him control and final say of all aspects of the production, including staff, sets, costumes, casting and so on.
Murphy credits his attention to detail for his success both as an actor and as a producer/director. “I really believe that the devil is in the details and that those little elements of creating a character – a tiny flick of the hand, or selecting a costume, just the right cufflinks, or designing a set (putting that knickknack at just the right angle) – are what make an audience believe in what they are seeing.”
He says the audience may only be subconsciously aware of these details, but they add to the realism of the production.
On the flip side, his attention to every detail and his meticulous perfectionism can lead to frustration, both for him and those working with him.
But that’s a small price to pay to achieve consistently great art.
Click on the headings below for full calendars
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Art on Broadway — Tours of 5 downtown venues featuring art from Alexandra Hall, Julie Wall, Peter Lupkin, Daniel Dienelt, Knotodday, Kay Gregg, Terry Ratliff and St. Monci, 5 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Broadway Street, Fort Wayne, free, 417-5925
Beer, Bourbon, Bacon Festival — Unlimited beer sampling from national and regional craft breweries, fine bourbon sampling and bacon inspired treats, 6-9 p.m. Saturday, March 25 (5-9 p.m. VIP), Marquis and Three Rivers Ballrooms, Hotel Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, $35-$75, 484-0411
An Evening with Author Tom Frank — Author of What’s the Matter with Kansas talks about his new book; hors d’oeuvres, lecture and book signing included in admission, 6 p.m. Saturday, March 25, CS3 Hideaway, Fort Wayne, $15 plus donation, 602-1008
Puttin’ on the Ritz —Active 20-30 club fundraiser with live music from Chris Worth and Company, gourmet edibles, wine and beer, live and silent auctions; black tie optional, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, $50-$90, 450-2844
Shipshewana on the Road — Food, craft and primitives show and sale, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, March 25 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, $4, 483-1111
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Big Dick and the Penetrators — Classic rock at Navy Club, Ship 245, New Haven, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 493-4044
Brat Pack — Rat Pack/variety at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Cougar Hunter — 80s glam rock at Vinnie's Bar, Decatur, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, 729-2225
Ellsworth Sharp — Neofolk at Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8:30 p.m., no cover, 745-3369
FBC Band w/Sheba — Variety/Music and Memories benefit at C2G Music Hall, Fort Wayne , 8 p.m., $7-$15, 426-6434
Fireball Matinee — Rock at Hideaway Lounge, Bluffton, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 824-0455
Fleshwounds — Rock at Hamilton House, Hamilton, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 488-3344
Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra — Funk at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., cover, 483-1311
Fu5ion — Variety at Mitchell's Sports Bar & Neighborhood Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $3, (260) 387-5063
The Illegals — Rock at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 422-5896
Joe Stabelli — Jazz at Don Hall's Gas House, Fort Wayne, 5:45-9 p.m., no cover, 426-3411
John Curran & Renegade — Country at Alley Sports Bar, Pro Bowl West, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-4421
Johnny Freakin' Xcitor — Country rock at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., no cover, 625-1002
Kat Bowser — Variety at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 489-2524
The Orange Opera w/Mickyle James — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., $5, 267-5303
Prime Suspects — Variety at American Legion Post 499, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 483-1368
Quincy and the Q-Tet feat. Phil Potts — Rock/variety at Downtown Eatery & Spirits, Warsaw, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, (574) 267-6000
Second Nature — Pop at Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Shannon Persinger Quartet — Jazz/variety at Club Soda, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 426-3442
Todd Harrold & Nick Bobay Duo — R&B/blues/variety at American Legion Post 148, Fort Wayne, 7 p.m., no cover, 423-4751
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Ambitious Blondes Karaoke — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Beat Karaoke & DJ — Variety at American Legion Post 296, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m. , no cover, 456-2988
Bucca Karaoke w/Bucca — Variety at Tower Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-6310
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Corner Pocket Tavern, Fremont, 10 p.m., no cover, 495-9255
Classic City Karaoke w/Tobin — Karaoke at Toad's Tavern, Monroeville, 10 p.m., no cover, 623-6226
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Karaoke at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at AJ's Bar and Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., , 434-1980
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Josh — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 557-1563
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-4748
House DJ — Variety at Early Bird's Ultra Lounge, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 483-1979
House DJ — Variety at Flashback on the Landing, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 422-5292
Karaoke — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Live DJ — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Shooting Star Prod. w/Barbie — Variety at Uncle Lou's Steel Mill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-5787
Shooting Star Prod. w/Stu — Variety at Pike's Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-6200
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ — Karaoke at Kville Pub, Kendallville, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 348-1677
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The Children’s Hour — Lillian Hellman’s seminal drama about bigotry perpetuated against the LGBT community and how easily a lie can spread, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 25, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $12-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121
Getting Sara Married — Comedy about an unmarried lawyer in need of a husband (according to her aunt), 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain, Saturday, March 25, Arena Dinner Theatre, Fort Wayne, $40 (includes dinner & show), 424-5622
One Foot in the Gravy — Howard Kingkade’s comedy and winner of Fort Wayne Civic Theatre’s Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 25; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 422-4226
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22nd Annual Valentine’s Invitational — Works from local and national artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru March 31, Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568
2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards — Award-winning works from northern Indiana and northwest Ohio middle and high school students, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Afros: A Celebration of African Hair by Michael July — Contemporary photography exhibit by Brooklyn author/photographer, daily thru April 14, D’Agostino Art Gallery, Indiana Tech, Fort Wayne, 399-8626
An Artful Spring — Works by Gwen Gutwein, Patricia Weiss, Austin Cartwright and more, Tuesday-Saturday thru March 31, Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Decatur Sculpture Tour — 31 original sculptures and 15 permanent exhibits on display, walking tour maps available, thru April 1, Decatur, free, 724-2605
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Entropy — Daniel Swartz solo exhibition explores relationship between death and mourning through combinations of mythology, mathematics, multi-dimensional physics and pop culture, Monday-Saturday thru April 1, Jennifer Ford Art, Fort Wayne, 740-1309
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday thru June 24, West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Garden Party — Garden-themed works in a variety of mediums from over 30 local artists, Monday-Saturday thru March 31, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Generations: A View of Who Was Who — Works by Romare Bearden, Kara Walker, Alma Thomas, Jacob Lawrence and other African-American artists, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
A Mary Poppins Garden Party — Child-oriented garden exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 1, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Moments in Time: Reflecting on the Human Spirit — Elizabeth Opalenik photographs from her recent Amish series A Journey Home and her Reflecting on the Edge exhibition, daily thru March 26, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
RAW. Untamed. Unashamed. Visions of Freedom. — Abstract romanticist works in acrylics and epoxy from Kristy Jahn, Fridays and Saturday-Thursday by appointment thru March 25, The Gallery at Pranayoga, Fort Wayne, 423-9642
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Wabash County Schools Exhibition — Works by high school art students, daily thru April 16, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102