Theater coalition taking over Black Box space to keep shows going in Silver Spring


Farrell Parker and Jimmy Mavrikes in “Bat Boy: The Musical” at 1st Stage. The show runs through June 22, 2014 in Tysons Corner. (Teresa Castracane)
June 17

The Silver Spring Black Box Theatre may soon be getting a new name and a new manager, but not new tenants. Four Montgomery County based theaters announced last week that they’ve formed a coalition to continue using the space and won a county contract to continue putting on shows in downtown Silver Spring for the next five years.

The four companies — Artstream, Forum Theatre, Live Garra Theatre and Lumina Studio Theatre — will take over as operators of the theater July 1, replacing Round House Theatre, which had been managing the space for the past 10 years. When Round House announced last year that it would not continue leasing the space, that admission came with regrets from artistic director Ryan Rilette. After months of negotiating with county officials, Rilette said he didn’t see a solution that would allow his theater to increase its programming in the space, while allowing enough community access to satisfy the county, which also owns the theater’s main space in Bethesda.

Into that political void stepped David Minton, Lumina’s artistic director, who will serve as president of the Theatre Consortium of Silver Spring.

“Our vision for the space is very diverse,” Minton said. “We really want it to be a people’s theater.”

A “people’s theater,” however, is not a full-time home for professional productions. Of the four companies in the consortium, only Forum consistently features equity and other paid veteran actors. Since 2009, the troupe has been praised for its quality production of new plays and recently anointed classics, including “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” which closed Sunday. Lumina is an expansive community theater operation that puts on shows featuring performers as young as 8. The group has been working in the area since 1997 and is best known for its Shakespeare with Twist productions for teens, such as the recent “Kabuki Coriolanus.”

Forum will retain the most dates in the theater, Minton said, while Lumina will produce the most shows (up to seven.) The remaining two companies are niche troupes that will each put on a handful of shows. Artstream works throughout the region and has produced plays featuring disabled actors at the Black Box since 2006. The newest tenant, Live Garra, targets the African American community. Next up for that company is a workshop of “Waiting for Godot,” featuring homeless actors.

Minton anticipates still having a handful of extra weeks available to rent out to other companies. For now, the four consortium troupes are busy finalizing their dates for the 2014-2015 season, but they also have long range planning to do. They plan to hire an independent managing director to oversee the space and are considering changing the theater’s name.

“That’s the question of the day,” Minton said. The county wants to keep Silver Spring Black Box on the books, but he acknowledges that it’s not a descriptive name for the space, which is located at 8641 Colesville Road. It’s sometimes called the AFI Black Box, even though the theater has no affiliation with the cinema. The buildings are connected, however, and share some HVAC system equipment, which brings Minton to one last point of good news about the consortium’s agreement to share the Black Box: The theaters will need to pay for Internet and box-office phone lines, but the county will continue footing the electric bill.

So, Silver Spring lighting designers, keep going to town.

Partnership extended

Thanks to a donation, Georgetown University and Arena Stage announced the continuation of their partnership agreement last week. Philanthropist Andrew R. Ammerman and the family of H. Max and Josephine F. Ammerman will contribute $150,000 over the next three years, allowing the university and the theater to continue a partnership that began informally in 2006 through at least 2017.

Ammerman, who serves on the Georgetown Board of Regents and the Arena Stage honorary board, will contribute $25,000 to each institution for each of the next three years. His contributions are unusual because there are no strings attached, said Derek Goldman, artistic director of the Davis Performing Arts Center at Georgetown. Often when university donors want to fund collaborations, they include stipulations such as “use the money to fund a sound design internship.” That’s not the case here. On a year-to-year basis, the two institutions can decide how to best use the funds.

The highest-profile results include a 2006 workshop of Moises Kaufman’s play “33 Variations” at Georgetown, a 2011 production of the Glass Menagerie featuring Georgetown students at Arena Stage and a 2012 staging of “Begotten,” a play by Goldman featuring Arena Stage regular Rick Foucheux. But many of the collaborations take place behind the scenes. The Ammerman funding has allowed Georgetown students to intern at Arena, and some, including casting director Amelia Powell, have gone on to work at the theater full time. Goldman said the university and the theater will also continue to partner on symposiums, which will allow Arena to maintain a foothold in the academic side of issues such as new play development.

1st Stage blood drive

If more fans of vampire movies and TV shows adopted the philosophy of 1st Stage, the Red Cross would have no shortage of donors. In honor of its summer production of “Bat Boy: The Musical,” the Tyson’s Corner theater held a blood drive Monday and collected 20 pints of blood for Inova Health System.

The blood drive was the brainchild of fight coordinator Paul Gallagher, who thought encouraging performers and fans to donate would be an appropriate celebration of the show. More than 30 donors came out to the drive, but at least 10 were turned away, said Eileen Mandell, 1st Stage’s managing director. It seems the theater had a number of supporters who didn’t meet Red Cross guidelines, such as those who had traveled to countries on a “no donors” list. One would-be donor was turned away for having completed a triathlon the day before. “Bat Boy” continues through Sunday. Only fake blood will be used on stage.

Ritzel is a freelance writer.

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