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Community workshops to be held to discuss future Forest Theatre renovations

DTH file. The Forest Theater is pictured in 2019.

The Forest Theatre planning committee is hosting two community workshops in the Koch Memorial Forest Theatre to gather community feedback on renovations for the theatre that would address the lack of maintenance and enhance accessibility.

Theatre Projects, a professional theatre planning consulting group, will help lead the workshops, which are open to everyone in the greater Chapel Hill area.

The goal of the renovations is to retain the sense of nature around the theater and honor its history while being "visually and physically accessible."

The first workshop will take place on Tuesday from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. at the Forest Theatre, and the second workshop will be held on Wednesday from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. at Reeves Auditorium in the North Carolina Botanical Garden. 

The four leaders of the renovation project are Arts Everywhere Associate Director Kathryn Wagner, N.C. Botanical Garden Administrative Director Damon Waitt, Carolina Performing Arts Executive and Artistic Director Alison Friedman and UNC Fine Arts and Humanities Senior Associate Dean Elizabeth Engelhardt.

“Although the four of us are spearheading the initiative, we’re doing these workshops to get input from all over campus and Chapel Hill to respond to the needs, interests and the potential for all kinds of creative uses of the space,” Friedman said.

Playmakers Repertory Company, the N.C. Botanical Garden and Arts Everywhere are also involved in planning the renovations.

Wagner said the idea for renovating the Forest Theatre was conceived before its 100th anniversary in 2019.

“A feasibility study was launched in 2019, and it generated the kinds of upgrades in terms of accessibility and capabilities for the theatre,” she said. “That’s the kind of framework that we need to be considering in terms of theatre infrastructure and venue management.”

Friedman said the renovation project is currently in the phase of developing a specific framework before budgets and funding sources can be determined. 

Waitt added that as the project progresses, they will get a better understanding of the construction timeline.

“As far as a construction project is concerned, it’d be less than a year once we get a big picture," Waitt said.

Friedman also stressed the importance of enabling universal access to the theatre by building accessible paths, public restrooms, handrails and power capacity improvements.

“We are picking up all of that planning (in 2019) because it was mostly about the hardware, you know, what kind of dressing rooms, what theater equipment needs to be put in," she said. “So now, we reconvened a group to look at the software, like 'what kind of staffing, what kind of operating budget? What's the business plan? What's the business model? Who will use it? Who should be involved in operating and managing it?'”

Other renovations include addressing drainage issues, repairing the lighting towers and other structures and improving lighting and sound infrastructure.

The first performance at the Forest Theatre took place in 1916. Since then, it has served as the venue for annual and special events including Shakespeare plays and the Paperhand Puppet Intervention. 

The Paperhand Puppet Intervention, which puts on plays and performances throughout the year, will be able to reach even greater audiences after the renovations.

Tori Danielik, co-president of the Forest Theatre Players, said she is excited about the infrastructure improvements, such as the demountable stage canopy.

“I'm particularly excited about the canopy so that we don't have to cancel rehearsals or performances due to rain,” she said. “Because the Forest Theatre is our only place to practice, it will make it easier to focus on Shakespeare's text rather than inclement weather and other limitations.”


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CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly named the Paperhand Puppet Intervention. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

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