Columnists

Playhouse donor has a passion for theater

When I learned last week that a local playhouse would rename its home in honor of a “sizable donation,” I wanted to know more about the philanthropic donors whose unexpected gift has suddenly brought good fortune to this 30-year-old community theater.

Frank and Katrina Basile’s donation of $100,000 was given to Main Street Productions Inc., which, in turn, renamed its Westfield Playhouse to Basile Westfield Playhouse. (The Times published the press release last week.)

The Basiles’ donation came free and clear with no stipulations on how the money is to be spent. And there are no perks in the contracts, such as free tickets.

And while the Basiles, who live on Indianapolis’ northside, didn’t have any connections to Westfield Playhouse before hearing about their needs, they felt compelled to give.

“Our first love is the theater,” Frank Basile, 82, said. “We are proud to be associated with Main Street Productions,” which presents plays and musicals at the newly constructed Playhouse that opened in 2020 on Union Street in downtown Westfield after moving from an old church-turned-theater in nearby Eagletown.

“Katrina and I appreciate the opportunity to use some of our resources for a mission that resonates with us, including the building, and the board and the types of plays they present,” Basile said.

Basile hasn’t attended any shows but will be doing so starting with the production, “Of Mice and Men,” which opens on Feb. 10.

He especially enjoys assisting smaller theaters in providing quality arts options for local residents.

“The successful 30‐year‐old Main Street Productions, with its  beautiful new building in the city of Westfield, provided the perfect opportunity to use our resources for a cause we believe in, and we are very grateful for that opportunity,” he said.

Basile sees giving, indeed, as an opportunity.

He was about 45 years old when he made his first major donation, which was at the Indianapolis Art Center, followed by the Phoenix Theatre.

Basile Westfield Playhouse is the 10th venue that bears his last name. The Basile namesakes are all related to theaters or performing arts centers and include Frank and Katrina Basile Stage at Phoenix Theatre, Frank M. Basile Auditorium at Indianapolis Art Center, Frank and Katrina Basile Auditorium at Herron School of Art, Frank and Katrina Basile Opera Center at Indianapolis Opera, IndyFringe Basile Theater at IndyFringe, Heartland Basile Theatre in Heartland Film’s office in Fountain Square, The Basile at the Historic Athenaeum and The Fonseca Theater in the Basile Building. (Frank Basile provided this list of Indianapolis theaters.)

He said he has been fortunate to be able to help all of these groups using his donations.

Basile, whose primary source of income for 33 years was his compensation as vice president of property management for the Gene B. Glick Co., where he was responsible for the company’s 21,000 apartments in 21 states, said, “I was also given the opportunity to invest in some of the company’s limited partnerships, which have been highly successful.”

He said, “I saved as much as I could through the years and made wise investments in the stock market.”

Basile doesn’t come from money. He was born and raised in New Orleans, and his parents were “relatively poor financially,” he said.

“I would imagine having money to do all the things my five sisters and I couldn’t, like attending arts and cultural events, though I only had a vague idea of what those were,” he told an audience in a Spirit & Place essay that he was asked to write and present. Since he took no family trips or vacations, with the exception of visiting nearby relatives, he said, “I imagined traveling to far-off lands, like New York and China.”

As a boy, his job was to watch his dad’s fruit stand. “Since there weren’t a lot of customers, I relied on my imagination for entertainment. Little did I know that these daydreams, as my mother called them, would take seed,” he said in his essay. 

“Through the years, I gradually accomplished or became much of what I had imagined …. I enjoyed the challenges that came with having to make things happen for myself and the resulting self-confidence and feeling of accomplishment.”

Meeting challenges help in his personal growth. “Those who don’t fend for themselves frequently miss out on the struggle and the thrill of overcoming,” he told his audiences.

Basile recalled being told by his Catholic high school principal that his tuition was overdue and then learned from his sobbing mother that his dad had gambled away the tuition money she had given him to take to the school on his way to the market.

He drove an old pickup truck to the farmer’s market near the French Quarter, he said, got a load of watermelons from a farmer on consignment and sold every one of them on the side of the road at his uncle’s farm just outside of New Orleans. He paid his tuition the next day.

“That was not only a thrilling accomplishment, but the beginning of the realization that I was the master of my fate,” he said. The only way to overcome something he feared was to do it.

Plus, he wanted to be able to live comfortably and enjoy experiences, like travel while having enough money left over to help other people.

Achieving his dreams required focus, determination and drive.

A businessman — who also wears the hats of certified speaking professional, author, columnist, community volunteer, philanthropist, retired property management executive and world traveler of more than 190 countries on all seven continents  — he often recites his favorite poem, “New Day.”

He also quotes Winston Churchill’s “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

He once said at a fundraiser, “rather than being thanked for his donation, he believes that donors should be thanking fundraisers for the opportunity presented to spend his time and resources.”

Basile said, “After you’ve made a certain amount of money, what do you do with it? “

He went to work when he was transferred from Detroit to Indianapolis by Ford Motor Co. (He had a parting of the ways with Ford.) Same time, he was getting a divorce. He noticed the apartments were poorly managed. He had to find another job. His job was to ask the manager who trains her. He thought maybe this was an opportunity in an industry where, he said, “I could make a difference.” Basile, after finding out who owned the most apartments, wrote a letter to Gene Glick.

He met his wife, Katrina, in 1998 at the old Capri restaurant, and they were married shortly after the devastating Hurricane Katrina. Living on Indy’s northside gives them easy access to downtown Indy as well as the northern suburbs, like Carmel, Noblesville and Westfield, “which is important to us since we frequently attend events in those areas,” she said. And sometimes, they have dinner at Pebblebrook Golf Club, “where Dave Lowe plays the piano and sings and we dance.”

Basile originally learned about Westfield Playhouse’s needs from Joel Kirk, a mutual friend of Playhouse builder Paul Estridge during the Playhouse’s capital campaign.

“When he (Basile) learned of our needs for items that we were looking for, interior finishes on the stage and the auditorium, he asked for a tour of the facility,” said Bill Miller, the Playhouse’s vice president of business. “He met with a couple of our board members and toured the Playhouse.”

Basile researched the Playhouse’s past couple of seasons, board and history with the community. He then made an offer of a Playhouse donation, which the board granted Miller the rights and privilege to negotiate and discuss with Basile.

Basile said the charities to which he donates are small organizations. He said, “They have to be small enough where we can make a difference.” – Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com