When Richard Rosen founded the Magik Theatre in 1994, his example was Childsplay, the pioneering theater for young audiences in Phoenix. Now, with the hiring of Anthony Runfola as new artistic director, the circle might be complete.

Runfola served as Childsplay’s first full-time director of production, building original plays “from the ground up,” said Frank Villani, Magik Theatre’s CEO.

Villani and Runfola see original productions as the next step in the Magik’s evolution, and a return to its past. Phantom of the Alamo, Skippyjon Jones, and Roxaboxen were all classic originals or adaptations under Rosen’s leadership along with David Morgan, the theater’s former associate artistic director, Villani said.

“We’ve been working on getting that emphasis back on production across the board, and I think Anthony will really be able to do that,” he said.

“One of the things I really want to do is for the Magik is get back to creating work there in San Antonio, that could [even] have a life beyond playing at the Magik Theatre,” Runfola said.

Runfola’s hiring was announced earlier this month after a 14-week national search produced 54 “incredible” candidates, Villani said, but Runfola’s experience with Childsplay made the difference.

When he found out he was a finalist for the position, Runfola drew up a list of 35 shows he’d like to see produced, including plays of the past, new plays, and “even just ideas for plays.” But before making any decisions, he wants to get to know the city a little better.

“I’d like to figure out first what San Antonio needs … get to know the kind of stories that need to be told,” including plays that will align with curricular needs of the local schools the theater works with regularly.

One of the reasons original productions are a core value of Childsplay is the need for staying relevant to what new generations of kids experience, Runfola said. “Everything changes so fast. We have to stay ahead of the curve to keep the work we’re doing vital for our audiences.”

And that work is important, he said. Theater for young audiences is meant “to be done in the way that has respect for young people, and deals with the issues young people are really dealing with. … Young people need art created just for them.”

Alexander, 7, bursts into laughter upon showing Magik Theatre actress Jovi Lee his puzzle game after the sensory-friendly performance of "The Three Javelinas."
Alexander, 7, bursts into laughter upon showing Magik Theatre actress Jovi Lee his puzzle game after the sensory-friendly performance of The Three Javelinas in 2017.

Runfola said he plans to work with local playwrights to produce works focused on the specific needs and issues of the community.

“We want to make sure what we’re doing reflects the community, and also maintains the artistic vision we need,” Villani said.

Runfola’s hiring is part of an ongoing evolution of the Magik Theatre. Recent renovations have made the building more accessible to patrons with disabilities, with more building improvements planned. A search for a managing director will begin in six to eight months, Villani said, completing the change to a new dual management model from its current CEO-led model.

Childsplay went through a similar transition from a founder-led company to a new management structure, and Villani said Runfola’s experience with that situation showed during his interviews.

“Anthony was able to understand some of the dynamics of what we we’re going through,” he said. “The beautiful part is really the compassion and understanding of what it’s going to take as this progress continues.”

Runfola will arrive in October, just as Bunnicula begins the company’s 2019-2020 season, directed by fellow Childsplay alum John Gentry.

However, the public will have a chance to meet Runfola at a special free event, Sept. 21 at 10:30 a.m. at the Magik Theatre. The cast of Bunnicula will be on hand for the meet-and-greet, and light refreshments will be served. Reservations are encouraged and can be made here.

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Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...