The University’s Koch Memorial Forest Theatre will be celebrating its centennial birthday on Sunday, Oct. 6th from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
The afternoon’s festivities will include performances from PlayMakers Repertory Company, Paperhand Puppet Intervention and more.
“We’re thrilled to be a part of this birthday party, because PlayMakers has been involved with the Forest Theatre from day one — we’re both 100 years old,” Alejandro Rodriguez, associate artistic director of PlayMakers Repertory Company, said.
The history of the Forest Theatre dates all the way back to 1916, when the University hosted a celebration at the location for the 300th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.
Frederick Koch soon came to UNC to teach playwriting in 1919 and the University built a permanent stone amphitheater, known today as the Forest Theatre, at the site of the celebration.
In 1940, with financial assistance from the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration, the theater was rebuilt. In 1953, the University dedicated the theater to Koch.
According to The Carolina Story: A Virtual Museum of University History, the amphitheater was regarded as “an open air palace of light and sound, haunt of birds and breezes and human voices, home of natural beauty, poetry and drama, set upon the warm earth, in enduring stone, to commemorate an ardent genius.”
The North Carolina Botanical Garden is partnering with the University’s Arts Everywhere initiative, PlayMakers Repertory Company and representatives from the Town of Chapel Hill to put on this anniversary celebration.
“It’s a great opportunity to celebrate the passage of these 100 years and to provide a chance for the community to come together, learn a little bit more about the theater and dream what might be done over the next 100 years,” Kathryn Wagner, associate director of Arts Everywhere, said.
In addition to live performances, the event will also provide a chance to discuss the University’s plans for increasing accessibility to the Forest Theatre. The Board of Trustees’ Finance, Infrastructure and Audit Committee has released a tentative plan along with the initial cost estimates for the renovations.
“The estimated project budget is $6.2 million and will be funded through a combination of gifts, North Carolina Botanical Garden reserves and the Open Space Trust Fund,” the report said.
This funding will be split between the Koch Memorial Forest Theatre and Coker Arboretum. In addition to improving accessibility, the Forest Theatre renovations will include rebuilding the stage, adding a canopy, upgrading the sound and lighting systems and adding toilet facilities.
“It’s a magical place where science meets art and art meets environment,” Damon Waitt, director of the North Carolina Botanical Garden, said. “It just has an aura about it that, in my mind, makes it one of the jewels of this campus. It has such a rich history.”
Those hoping to attend the event are encouraged to bring a blanket or pillow to sit on to make their visit more comfortable.
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