The company’s decision not to seek renewal throws into question the management of the space, which in the past decade has gone from being a theater no one was quite sure how to use to one that is highly sought after, in a part of the county lacking in such facilities. One of Round House’s subtenants is highly regarded Forum Theatre, whose seasons account for almost half the booking dates in the black box.
Forum officials say their future beyond next June is up in the air. The 150-seat space also is rented for small fees to arts groups serving students or specialized communities, such as Lumina Studio Theatre, Artstream and Live Garra Theatre. According to David Minton, Lumina’s executive director, these groups will form a consortium and propose to the county a mechanism for running the space.
Round House seems to have made a calculation that yielding the space was smarter politically; the county also controls Round House’s main stage on East-West Highway in Bethesda, where the lease comes up for renewal in about four years.
Ryan Rilette, Round House’s producing artistic director, said giving up Silver Spring, though regrettable, was preferable to a protracted struggle.
“If we thought there was an outcome where we could retain the space, we probably would have spent more time fighting for it,” he said. “It’s been an ongoing conversation for many, many months. We didn’t see any version of this ending with us getting the space, allowing us to do all the programming we wanted to do.”
Calling Round House’s decision “a good-news story,” George L. Leventhal, the County Council member whose Health and Human Services Committee has jurisdiction over county arts facilities, said the county will entertain proposals from groups seeking to book the space.
“Round House Theatre is a great community institution. They’ve made a sound decision,” Leventhal (D-At Large) said.
The recent announcements of the purchases of their playhouses by Woolly Mammoth Theatre and Keegan Theatre underscore how powerfully Washington area theaters of all sizes see real estate as destiny — which is why Round House’s surrender in Silver Spring may strike some as counterintuitive. As Rilette acknowledged, the flexibility the satellite space provided was one of the aspects of Round House that persuaded him to leave his post at the Marin Theatre Company last year and move his family across country.