ASTA, a prominent Washington theater group since 1972, will fold following next week's performances of "TimeSteps."
In recent years the group has been known primarily for revivals and for the daytime soap opera it presented last summer,"... and the Pursuit of Happiness." It has offered more traditional programming than most of the other small theaters in the city have.
The fate of ASTA's Capitol Hill home at 507 8th St. SE, which features two of the area's most frequently used small theater spaces, is unknown.
"While there is still support and interest for our work, it is no longer financially feasible for the theater to continue," said Dona Cooper, artistic director and head of the ASTA board.
ASTA's attendance declined dramatically this season, according to Cooper, falling to an average of 25 per cent capacity from an average 70 per cent last season. And ASTA was dependent on the box office to a degree uncommon among nonprofit theaters. Grants were few and far between and small, and there were only 150 subscribers to ASTA's season.
Cooper's health also has been a factor in the decline of the theater, she acknowledged. She has been hospitalized periodically during the past two years. Following one of her periods of poor health last fall, she returned to see ASTA's production of "Charley's Aunt" and disliked it so much that she ended its run prematurely. Following the opening of "TimeSteps" earlier this month, she announced she would be taking a leave of absence from the theater.
ASTA was begun in 1972 by a group primarily comprised of recent University of Maryland theater students. The group adopted the name ASTA, standing for American Society of Theater Arts, because "we needed to do something pretentious in order to get recognition," according to Ken Bloom, who was one of the founders and is now the associate producer of the New Playwrights' Theater.
The original ASTA included units for new playwrights, puppets, musical theater and classical theater and operated out of a 20-seat house at 1724 20th St. NW.
Cooper became the head of ASTA in June 1975 and directed the programming toward revivals, although at least one new work appeared every season.The group attained its greatest critical success in 1976-77 with productions of "The Indian Wants the Bronx," "In the Jungle of Cities" and "Trouping."
ASTA moved to the Hill in the fall of 1977 and achieved its greatest box office success with productions of "Private Lives" and "Playboy of the Western World."
Bloom, who left ASTA for New Playwrights around the same time Cooper took over, said yesterday the death of ASTA was "another sad loss for Washington actors, designers and technicians." He said NPT would be willing to honor ASTA subscriptions for the rest of the season.
A "going out of business" sale will be held at ASTA on March 4-5.