Mover and Shaker
June 18, 2015
Phillip Colglazier’s life in theater came from a somewhat surprising direction. A gymnast through his school days, he was regularly demonstrating his prowess as a Lane Middle School student. That’s not to say that other kinds of performance hadn’t begun to take shape long before that, however. “As a little kid I used to dress up as a clown and would balance on oatmeal boxes,” he says now with a laugh. “I was hanging curtains in my basement and wrote plays. My family was always supportive and nurturing my creativity.”
But it was definitely gymnastics which held his focus for many years, even being part of the men’s gymnastics team while he attended Ball State University. He just knew he wanted something more.
“As a male gymnast at that time, there were few outlets where I could utilize my skills, things I could do that could nurture my soul. Theater gave me a place to develop friendships and gave me a broader sense of the world. So I decided to switch my major to theater at Ball State.”
After getting his first paying job in theatre in the summer of 1979, Colglazier “knew I had the bug,” and after three summers at Opryland, he completed his degree in speech and theater education. But he knew he had to take a leap of faith to assure he’d have no regrets.
“I knew I had to go to New York City. I knew if I didn’t, I would regret it. I had a passion for theater, and you just need to let yourself go down that path and see where you can take it. I knew I had to do it. There was no choice.”
Ironically, most of the jobs he got while in New York took him to places around the globe – Italy, Austria, Korea. Theater was indeed providing him with a broader sense of the world, but injuries were taking their toll, and Colglazier says, “I decided to start listening to my body.” Thus began a journey that would ultimately bring him back to Fort Wayne.
That journey started with a year spent at the Old Indiana Fun Park in Thorntown, a place where he was able to learn more about the behind-the-scenes work that would one day fill his life. He also took on a variety of jobs, teaching gymnastics among them. Along the way he worked at Fort Wayne Ballet and gained further experience teaching dance and applying for grants as their education director. And one more interesting job helped put him in touch with community and business leaders.
“The only paying acting job in Fort Wayne was as Happy the Hobo, and I played Happy for three years. What people don’t realize about that kind of thing is that I was producing the show too, so I had to write the skits, create the material, schedule the guests who were going to be on. I met a lot of people in the community through being Happy the Hobo.”
Choreography also became a big part of his résumé, working with the Fort Wayne Fury dance team as well as the Civic Theatre, where he eventually accepted a position as education director and, for a time, interim director. A year spent as managing director for Indianapolis’s Edyvean Repertory Theatre was the final piece to the puzzle. In 2000 he was offered the position of executive and artistic director for the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre.
On the surface, juggling executive and artistic duties sounds pretty right brain/left brain, calling upon business savvy and creative inspiration which don’t always coexist. But for Colglazier, it’s that very thing which has made the job so fulfilling for the last 15 years.
“I would definitely say I get the same pleasure of opening night applause when I receive a grant approval check! Really, the two roles are not that different. A good director is organized, and you really have to bring the best out in people. Those things carry over. The palate may be different, but the skill set is very similar, at least in the way I approach the position.”
Colglazier points to the Civic’s two signature fundraising events – Celebrities Act Up and the Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival – as ways that he’s brought creativity to the administrative side of the organization. His own years as a playwright inspired his desire to provide a forum for local talent to get their words on a stage, before an audience. He continues to direct some of the Civic’s productions and can be seen on stage from time to time (recently in the Fort Wayne Ballet production of Don Quixote), providing him further opportunities to explore his creative side. Having gotten his start in theater in Fort Wayne with a production of South Pacific at age 15, Colglazier is happy to have returned home to share his love of theater with others.
“I think the Civic Theatre is a true gem in this community. Having the background that I have, this is not a stepping stone position. This job is bigger than me. I look at kids that are doing our plays, and I’ll ask them ‘How old are you?’ and if they say 15, I say, ‘You could be in this job one day.’ Because I didn’t imagine when I did my first play at that age that I would one day be here doing this.
“I want to strengthen the Civic’s place in the community so one day, when I pass it along, it’s in good financial order.”
Above all, Colglazier has seen enough to keep some perspective, and it’s that mind set that allows him to enjoy all aspects of his long run at the Civic.
“I try not to take myself too seriously. There’s enough stress in the world, and the job can be stressful. If you don’t have a sense of humor, it’s hard to keep your perspective. It’s not brain surgery.”