The Forest Theater is an historic amphitheater in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Founded in 1910, it is one of the oldest outdoor theaters west of the Rockies. Actor/director Herbert Heron is generally cited as the founder and driving force, and poet/novelist Mary Austin is often credited with suggesting the idea. As first envisioned, original works by California authors, children's theatre, and the plays of Shakespeare were the primary focus. Since its inception, a variety of artists and theatre groups have presented plays, pageants, musical offerings and other performances on the outdoor stage, and the facility's smaller indoor theatre and school. In 1937, the property was deeded to the City of Carmel-by-the-Sea in order to qualify for federal funding and, in 1939, the site became a WPA project. The WPA rebuilt the outdoor theatre and created an indoor facility beneath the outdoor stage, the site re-opened as The Carmel Shakespeare Festival, with Herbert Heron as its Director, and, with the exception of the World War II years of 1943-44, the festival continued through the late-1940s. In 1949, Heron and twenty villagers started the first Forest Theatre Guild. In 1958, the City Council instituted an Arts Commission, charged with operation and maintenance of the Forest Theater. The guild remained active until it disbanded in 1961, after which the outdoor theatre lay unused and neglected for over a decade. From 1968 to 2010, Marcia Hovick's Children's Experimental Theater leased the indoor theatre, which is now operated by Pacific Repertory Theatre's School of Dramatic Arts (SoDA). In 1971, a second Forest Theater Guild was established by Cole Weston, and the group began producing summer musicals and community plays on the outdoor stage. In 1984, Pacific Repertory Theatre (PacRep) began producing classics, children's theater and musicals on the outdoor stage, reactivating Herbert Heron's Carmel Shakespeare Festival in 1990. In 1997, The Forest Theater Guild added the Films in the Forest movie series, featuring cinema favorites from classics such as It's a Wonderful Life to feature films like Frozen. In 2005, PacRep presented the theater's highest-attended production, Disney's Beauty and the Beast, to a combined audience of over 10,000 ticket holders. On April 23, 2014, the facility was shuttered due to health and safety issues caused by years of deferred maintenance. In a special workshop on May 5, the community and city council declared a "cultural community emergency" developing a quick consensus that the historic facility should be reopened as soon as possible. As of February 2016, however, the theater remained closed.
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