Forum Theatre, the little company in Silver Spring that on a modest scale championed some of the most advanced ideas in modern playgoing, announced Wednesday that it would be closing shop for good on July 31, after 14 years of putting on adventurous shows.
Michael Dove, one of Forum’s founders and the artistic director who has overseen it throughout its existence, said the decision was unanimous by him and the theater’s board. The action was taken, according to Dove and president of the board of directors Christina Ritchie, as a result of factors including the crowded theater landscape in the region and Dove’s desire to explore more esoteric kinds of theater than could be sustained by the company.
It also had to do, they said, with the stagnation in the company’s growth. “A lot of the benchmarks we set for ourselves we weren’t hitting,” said Dove, who has traveled regularly to Eastern Europe in search of new ideas for experimental forms of theater. As Dove articulated for board members and donors some of the ideas he wanted to try, Ritchie added, the realization took hold that it would get only harder to reach those benchmark goals for audience-building and fundraising.
“He started to talk about his vision for what he wanted to do artistically,” Ritchie said. “It was very exciting for some people, but there were other people who said, ‘That sounds interesting, but it isn’t for me.’ And I think that’s okay. But as we started to think about how that vision fit in with what we were trying to do from an organizational growth perspective, we looked at it and said this pivot doesn’t fit with what we might be able to support on the other side of it, in all ways.”
Founded as Forum Theatre and Dance in 2004, the company started off in the bygone Warehouse Theater in downtown Washington and then moved to another now-defunct space on H Street NE, dropping the “Dance” in its name along the way. At first it produced short plays by Samuel Beckett and other nonlinear, modernist pieces such as Heiner Mueller’s “Hamletmachine.” Eventually the troupe moved to Silver Spring, into a black box space on Colesville Road then maintained by Bethesda’s Round House Theatre. Dove continually expanded Forum’s palate, staging works by such writers of note as Young Jean Lee, Steve Yockey and Caryl Churchill. In 2009, Forum’s staging of “Angels in America,” directed by Jeremy Skidmore and Dove, was not only one of the highlights of the season but also showed how Tony Kushner’s epic two-part drama could be done effectively on an intimate scale.
The company, with an annual budget of less than $350,000, also was at the forefront of other contemporary changes in the theater scene. Dove was one of the first to make gender parity a goal in the selection of playwrights; of the 34 productions Forum has produced since 2010, he noted, 19 have been by women. Forum also experimented with radical alterations in ticket buying, instituting a policy of having theatergoers pay whatever they wanted for admission.
Dove, now 36, and with the company since he was 22, said he was deeply proud of what had been achieved, even if it has to end. (Forum will go on with a benefit Monday night because the company wants to pay off remaining bills.) He also wants to stay in the theater and says he hopes to bring more international theater to the region.
As for moving on, Dove said he was reminded recently of an email he sent years ago to the three people with whom he founded Forum, in which he placed a time limit on the company’s life span.
“I was surprised by the fact that I’d written, ‘Let’s do this for three or four years.’ Because I didn’t want to build this thing that would be reliant on its own self-perpetuating need to survive.”