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Ron Spencer prepares for his final bow at TOTS

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His life in the theater began when Ron Spencer, artistic director and founder of Theatre on the Square, was a 6-year old growing up in McCordsville, Ind. Now 67, Spencer will take his final curtain call when “Superior Donuts”, opening Friday, July 11, closes on Saturday, Aug. 2. The show will be presented on the Main Stage at TOTS on Mass Ave., located downtown in Indianapolis’ Arts & Theatre district.

“Superior Donuts” is a comedy by Tracy Letts, who is best known for the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning “August: Osage County”. Spencer, who also directs the show, plays Arthur, the owner of a rundown donut shop who employs young Franco (Daniel Martin), an aspiring writer. Franco is enthusiastic and wants to update the business but curmudgeon Arthur, set in his ways, resists any and all change. Then there is the matter of Franco’s gambling addiction which Arthur discovers and which complicates things further.

Others in the cast include Jerome Davis (James), Bridget Schlebecker (Randy), Jean Adams (Lady), James Lucas (Max), Gus McKinney (Kevin) and Scott Sawyer (Luther).

Spencer has been involved in nearly 130 shows, either as an actor, director, or in some other capacity, since he founded TOTS at its original Fountain Square location in 1988. During a recent sit down with Examiner.com on the set of “Superior Donuts” Spencer said, “This piece is pretty hard hitting in its own way but it makes such a beautiful statement about unlikely characters coming together and helping to redeem each other. I have wanted to direct this show for several years and always ran into casting or other issues. This time, we have an abundance of talent and playing the shop-owner, Arthur, has been on my bucket list since the play was published. One big reason I am able to direct and act in the show is because when I read a script I see it happening like a movie, so for me then, it is just a question of recalling that imagery in the movie. Ultimately though, this is my swan song as far as acting and directing in Indy theater."

Spencer indicated that once the show is over he is considering a full time move to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, which he discovered ten years ago when he first visited there after winning a vacation package in a charity event silent auction. Since then Spencer continued to vacation there regularly until three years ago, when he began to divide his time between his home in Puerto Vallarta and Indianapolis, with six months spent in each location. When in Mexico, Spencer said, and thanks to modern technology, he was able to work at half salary on behalf of TOTS, performing marketing, fundraising and other duties.

Though Spencer will no longer perform or direct at TOTS, he envisions that he’ll continue to stay on with the organization until a suitable artistic director is found and then assist in a transition, but he indicated that there was no rush because it is important to him that the right individual be chosen. “I don’t know who that candidate is yet. I don’t know if the board feels I should hand pick someone, but I know they will look to me for guidance. My main concern is that we find an individual who doesn’t have their own agenda. I don’t expect TOTS to remain what it was under my tenure. I know every artist has to have the right to self-expression and to pursue what they feel is important. But I think it is important to give it some time,” he emphasized.

Spencer also indicated that he felt that he owed his biggest supporters a gradual transition when he said, “There have been individuals such as Christel DeHaan of the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation and Jerry Zink of the Sunrise Foundation, Brian Payne of CICF, plus friends who wish to remain anonymous, that have been very generous to Theatre on the Square. Just this year Christel donated $100,000.00 from her personal funds to TOTS, in my honor. When you have individuals like her, making those kinds of gifts, and responding to your contributions to the community, you feel an obligation. I guess that’s just part of my upbringing. Once you have that kind of endorsement, you just can’t walk away. I have a plan for my life that I want to implement but by the same token I feel a responsibility to my supporters.”

As to whether he will stay involved with the organization as a board member, Spencer said "I certainly hope so. It’s my plan to discuss that with the board of directors." In the meantime, Spencer said he has already chosen the 2014-2015 season, lined up directors and secured sponsors for several shows. Will he eventually be able to let go of TOTS permanently? " I would say that it might be easier for me than some because I have a sense of 'Now, it’s time for Ron.'"

Now that he is drawing closer to a new chapter in his life, Spencer, who says he is not in the least sentimental, nevertheless reflects on what TOTS has meant to him. “For 26 years it’s been a huge outlet for my creativity. That is a luxury that very few people have.” In regard to theater in general, Spencer said, “When I was younger it definitely meant an escape. An escape from poverty and a different life than that of my family. Even though I love my family and they were always very supportive of me, I was always different. I knew this and wanted to be somewhere where I felt like I belonged and could feel at home.

“Then, when I did more theater, I realized ‘Wow. You can reach a lot of people with these plays. You can really tell someone else’s story and have someone be incredibly moved by it.’ There is nothing more rewarding, such as in Del Shore's ‘Southern Baptist Sissies’ when I played Peanut, the old gay drunk. He comes out of the bar and sees a young man standing there and says ‘I want you to do me a favor. I want you to go home and look at yourself in the mirror and learn to love what you see.’ When I delivered that line, I saw people in the theater with tears streaming down their faces. It is just so very moving.”

For tickets ($20/25) and information about “Superior Donuts” at Theatre on the Square call (317) 685- 8687 or visit www.tots.org.

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