Manbites Dog Theater
photo by Alan Dehmer
Jeff Storer and Ed Hunt twenty years ago, when they bought a permanent home for Manbites Dog Theater at 703 Foster Street.
, the region’s oldest independent theater company, has announced plans to close and sell its theater building on Foster Street at the end of its upcoming 2017-18 season
. The news shocked the area’s artistic community, coming one week after the venerated company announced the details of its thirty-first—and now, final—season as a producing organization.
In a press release on Tuesday evening, Manbites Dog’s board of directors framed the decision as a transition from the first two stages of the company’s life, as an itinerant theater troupe that found a stable venue in downtown Durham in 1998, to its next incarnation. Its board of directors said that, after a sabbatical following the closure in June 2018, Manbites Dog will return as a funding and support organization for Triangle theater artists, working through a new agency fund affiliated with the Triangle Community Foundation
In a separate letter emailed to company supporters Tuesday night, company founders Jeff Storer and Ed Hunt wrote, “We know that the richest, most interesting, most provocative stories are catalyzed by moments of change. ... It’s time for us to seed the next generation of theater-makers.”
Manbites Dog has a reputation for producing innovative, community-focused, socially aware theater. It regularly hosts many of the area’s most promising itinerant companies. In its three-decade run, Manbites Dog has garnered eleven five-star reviews from INDY
critics for works it has produced or presented—the largest number by far of any regional theater company.
Speaking to the INDY
, Joseph Megel, artistic director of StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance, observed that Manbites Dog has represented “heroic presentation of the arts over the years” while “singularly creating an identity for theater in Durham.” The sorrow felt by Manbites Dog’s associate artistic director, Jules Odendahl-James, is tempered by Storer and Hunt “being able to define their own ending with an amazing final season. ... Such an exit is rare for theater companies in these times.”
For Tamara Kissane, whose plays for both hands theatre company and Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern have premiered at Manbites Dog, the news had the impact of parents selling a childhood home. “That place and the memories you made there are part of you, in your bones,” she says. “That home formed you.”
Manbites Dog’s final season, beginning in September, includes regional premieres by Aaron Posner and Jen Silverman, a world premiere by local playwright Howard L. Craft, hosted productions by Torry Bend and Summer Sisters, and a new black theater festival produced by Black Ops Theatre Company. See an upcoming issue of the INDY
for our full report on this tectonic shift for local theater.