Chelsea Fry, 28, realized after years in the business that there was something missing in the San Antonio theatre scene. As an actor and director, she had been involved in shows by Neil Simon and Shakespeare, but she felt there was reluctance among the city’s production companies to fund edgy, socially progressive performances by newer playwrights.
“I’ve always approached several different people in San Antonio trying to get [them to put on] interesting shows that I think would be relevant today,” Fry said. “I was rejected constantly…one night I had an epiphany. I thought, what’s stopping me from doing this? If I’m so in love with these shows, why am I waiting for other people to approve them?” And so she created her own company, Inception Theatre.
Now, a little over a year later, the fledgling production company is performing its debut show, Howard Barker’s Scenes from an Execution, which began on July 15 and runs through July 25.
Scenes from an Execution is set in Venice in the late 16th century, shortly after the Battle of Lepanto, in which the Republic of Venice and its allies prevented the Ottoman Empire from advancing into Europe and gained control of the Mediterranean Sea. The Venetian government and the Catholic Church commission Galactia (Catherine Babbit), a free spirited, strong willed and wildly talented artist, to paint the battle as a civic monument venerating Jesus Christ and the Republic. Conflict arises when Galactia, a self-proclaimed harbinger of truth, depicts the horrors of war on her canvas as opposed to the glorified version of violence requested by her patrons. The play uses this tension to explore themes of censorship, artistic integrity, corruption and the true nature of war, ending in a sequence of events that leaves the audience guessing when the curtains close.“The worst thing you can do is have a show where people just don’t care, and they just turn their brains off after they leave,” Fry said.
The show touches on difficult themes, and the audience has responded. Fry says a woman approached her after one of the shows and told Fry that her son had died while fighting in Afghanistan, leaving behind his wife and three children. He never got the chance to hold his youngest child. She thanked Fry for telling the story. “It really touched my heart to have someone just reach out and appreciate what the story’s about,” says Fry.
The show is Fry’s labor of love—she is currently funding Inception Theatre on her own—but she says it’s worth the investment. “There is no money that can equate to an emotion,” she says. “So really, we have accomplished what we wanted to do – to get people to think and to feel.”