Marking its 60th anniversary this month, Dobama remains committed to presenting risk-taking material in unlikely places, from the Coventry spot it called home from 1959 to 2005, to its current space in the Heights Library annex on Lee Road.
Since Donald and Marilyn Bianchi, Mark Silverberg and Barry Silverman founded it, the cutting-edge theater has grown from a tiny troupe who performed for free to the region’s third Actors Equity Association full-time Equity House, joining the Cleveland Play House and Great Lakes Theater.
“It has always been a feisty, small theater with excellent talent,” says the 90-year-old Silver, who performed in the plays John and On the Grill last year. “It isn’t about size, it’s about quality. I don’t think the mission of Dobama has ever changed.”
Dobama was born from a desire to see vanguard plays on the East Side that explored meaningful, if controversial, real world topics. “When Don [Bianchi] founded the theater, he was frustrated by producers who weren’t willing to do anything that was risky,” says Nathan Motta, Dobama’s artistic director. “We’ve been able to continue to be viable by banking on our brand: doing theater that’s thought-provoking and really well done.”
That mission guided innovative productions on race relations, religion, sexuality, family dynamics and global politics, from 1962’s I’m Talking About Jerusalem, to a 1993 staging of Angels In America to last year’s season of entirely women-written plays.
“Sixty years is a very long run for a theater that does the type of work we do,” says Motta.
During lean years, including Dobama’s search for a permanent home from 2005 to 2009, a loyal core audience helped the theater survive. “It hasn’t always been easy,” says Motta. “The Dobama diehards have seen us through.” For good reason. Dobama’s work nets national honors, including the Kathryn Lamkey Award for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at this year’s Equity Spirit Awards.
Silver counts herself lucky to witness the theater’s transformation. “Dobama has become a very important part of the community,” she says. “I wish it a long life.”
Scene Change: The classic theater sees some changes in its 2019-2020 season.
The season debuts Sept. 6 with Stupid F- - -ing Bird, an in-your-face take on Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. “It’s about art and love with a lot of breaking the fourth wall with the audience,” says Motta. Others include Skeleton Crew by Shameless TV scribe Dominique Morisseau and Pulitzer Prize-finalist Dance Nation.
Along with new carpeting and signage, the first row of seats in the 160-seat theater is being renovated to become more ADA-accessible for audience members with mobility impairments.
The theater hired Trevor Wise as its new managing director, a seasoned stage pro who comes from the Barrington Stage Co. in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Dobama is expanding its Pay What You Can plan. An hour before each show, any unsold tickets can be purchased for whatever the buyer can afford. “It’s our thank-you present to the community,” says Motta.