DC Theatre Scene has learned that Lumina Studio Theatre, the Montgomery County Company known principally for its classical productions or classical mash-ups using casts composed primarily of children and young adults, was the prime mover in the series of events which culminated in Round House Theatre’s decision not to renew its lease on the Silver Spring location.
The Washington Post and other publications had previously reported that Round House Theatre, which had planned to use the space for more of its own productions, had decided not to renew its lease after an unspecified sub-tenant appealed to Montgomery County. The Post speculated that the conflict was an outgrowth of the current high demand for theater space in the Washington area.
But Lumina – who Montgomery County Council Member George I. Leventhal revealed as the party which objected to Round House’s plan – had issues with Round House that ran deeper than access to the theater.
According to Lumina, Round House has been guilty of lax management of the Silver Spring facility. “Since October 2012 there has been no [Round House] staff in the Black Box space. The offices are empty. There is no on-site [Round House] staff member to manage, repair, and oversee the facility,” Lumina complained in a position paper it released to DCTS.
Lumina asserted that this lack of attention has resulted in “Faulty Theatre equipment necessary to run shows (Headsets), Late contracts for shows, Lag time in RHT Bethesda responding to reports of problems and those problems being resolved,” and “Custodial staff unsupervised (hours spent in lobby talking with friends with no work done)”.
Lumina also accused Round House of lack of financial transparency. Noting that Round House operated the Silver Spring facility free of rent, Lumina stated, “[Round House] has never made available to any user groups of the space – nor to the County Council based on inquires made – transparent Financial Statements that show income (rent paid to [Round House] by user groups) and direct expenses generated by the operation of the space.”
Round House did not respond to a call DCTS placed to its Press Office at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 29.
Lumina has proposed that a consortium composed of itself and two other Silver Spring tenants – Art-Stream and Live Garra Theatre – manage the facility after Round House’s lease expires. Art-Stream is an organization which is dedicated to giving artistic opportunities to “various groups such as persons with disabilities, seniors, people with short or long term illnesses and their families or caregivers, immigrants, veterans, people who are grieving, and students and teachers.” Live Garra “employs the cultural arts to address universal social-life issues, serve as a safe-harbor for youth, a source of strength for the community; and preserve the unique legacy of the African-American Theatre through the art of ‘spoken word,’” according to its website.
Lumina said that it welcomes Round House and the facility’s principal tenant, Forum Theatre, in the consortium but has been unsuccessful in getting them to join.
However, Forum Theatre Artistic Director Michael Dove said that he expected the company would participate in developing long-term plans for the theater. ”[W]e are going to meet with the preliminary consortium partners and look at their plan and hope to meet with [Montgomery County] officials about what our options may be to stay in the city/county,” Dove said by e-mail.
Unlike Lumina, Forum appeared to be entirely satisfied with the arrangement that it had with Round House. “Round House generously brought us in as the Resident Theatre of the downtown Silver Spring theatre, and through that partnership we have grown as a company,” Dove said. “[O]ur partnership with Round House has allowed us certain financial freedoms that we simply will not have in a year’s time. The cost of producing at this same level will certainly increase as we explore options for the 2014/2015 season and beyond.”
Round House’s decision not to renew its lease on the Silver Spring facility “leaves our future location situation uncertain” Dove said. “When Round House’s lease of the Montgomery County-owned building ends on June 30, 2014 so will end our residency.”
The uncertainty will affect the upcoming season, according to Dove. “The first four productions of our 2013-2014 season will go ahead as planned but the location of our fifth, the area premiere of [Steinberg Award finalist] Gidion’s Knot, is unknown at this time.”
Dove said that Forum had split its box office revenue evenly with Round House; this paid for Forum’s offices, performance space and rehearsal space. They had just begun negotiations on a new multi-year contract. Dove said that Round House had discussed the possibility of reducing the number of performances but “it would be several seasons down the road.”
Montgomery County Council Member Leventhal, whose Health and Human Services Committee has jurisdiction over the building, predicted that Forum will remain in Silver Spring. “We like Forum Theatre and we hope they will stay,” Leventhal told DC Theatre Scene. “We would have been happy if Round House had stayed, but it sounded like they made a business decision not to manage the facility any longer, and that was fine with me.” However, Leventhal said that the terms and conditions under which the current companies would remain in the facility was “for the future.”
Leventhal, who is now in his third term on the Council, emphasizes that Round House’s decision to leave Silver Spring was its own. “It was never my objective to get Round House to move. I simply gathered the stakeholders together to try to reach a solution which would be satisfactory to all,” he said.
“Round House is a respected part of our community,” Leventhal said, noting that the company retains office space in Silver Spring rent-free.
Note: The facts contained in this article have been updated here.
David Musselman says
The comments section on the Washington Post’s story offers even more disquieting indications of a small group having ganged up to wrest the space away for non-artistic reasons. Lumina obviously has loyal enthusiasts among the parents who have sent kids to their programs. But nothing said indicates that the original purpose of that space is going to be maintained– professional theatre of the highest artistic quality in downtown Silver Spring. That goal got the place built. There are decent programs for youth in DC, run by nice people who may or may not cast themselves in the lead– should they take over the Lansburgh or Gala?
Jill P says
Unexpected Stage Company is gearing up for their production of Alan Bennett’s “The Lady in the Van” at Round House’s old space on Randolph Road in Silver Spring in July/August. This theater could be a good option for theaters to work in too.
David Musselman says
I am not sure the quality of artistic work is as much a concern as the mission statements. Lumina and the other consortium companies have as their stated purpose things other than the creation of art! I see a lot about “opportunities” and “social-life issues” and having different generations work together. That’s all laudable but it’s not what Round House and Forum give Montgomery County and its residents, and why the space was founded to be. I don’t see much about art– I see a lot of what makes foundations happy in grant proposals. This is troubling.
Jill F says
My understanding from this article is that the dispute is over management of the facility, not the quality of the performances. If a “top-notch” theatre does a mediocre job running the facility, why would the county want to continue letting those art groups run their/the tax-payers’ facility? We all benefit from performance spaces that are well managed and maintained.
Michael F says
So Montgomery County elected officials would rather support three mediocre arts groups than two top notch theatres? Great thinking. Hope Forum finds a supportive home in DC or Virginia.