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Jonesboro is the largest community in northeast Arkansas and people from all over the region have been visiting its downtown area for decades. The Forum Theater, located in the heart of downtown, has been providing entertainment to patrons of the city for nearly 90 years.
The Forum Theater, originally called The Strand, was built in 1926. The two-story structure was built to seat between 700 and 1200 people (depending on the source) and was the largest theater in the Jonesboro area for over 40 years.
The Jonesboro Entertainment Company, along with the architect D.J. Wolpert, designed the two-story structure with a full-sized stage that would also include a parquet, balcony and gallery, as well as dressing rooms and public restrooms. The original cost of the building was somewhere around $110,000. The theater was also later operated by both Paramount Pictures Inc. and Malco Theaters Inc. and served as a movie theater before being sold to the city of Jonesboro in the mid-1970s.
Sadly, many similar buildings across the state have met their demise when they were sold to the city in which they are located. Often the buildings are purchased and then resold with little respect to the original purpose of the building. Fortunately, the city of Jonesboro, which still maintains ownership of the building, had the foresight to restore the building in an effort to preserve its intended use. In 1978, with renovation complete, the building was renamed The Forum.
The Forum served as a concert hall and playhouse for several years until three local groups merged in effort to consolidate their fundraising efforts and offer a clearer focus on a variety of artistic endeavors. In 1989, the Jonesboro Fine Arts Council, The Northeast Arkansas Symphony, and The Friends of the Forum merged to become the Foundation of Arts and the Forum became the home to the newly formed non-profit organization.
The Foundation of Arts (FOA) aims to make the arts a vibrant part of the local community. They offer a variety of classes in ballet, tap and jazz, acting workshops, musical theater, and a variety of art classes for children aged three through adults.
The highlight of the FOA is the community theater which is truly a community event. Many residents of Jonesboro and the surrounding community star in the eight theatre productions provided by the FOA each season. Many local volunteers provide materials and time in order to create well-crafted programs to present to the public.
There are still four productions scheduled for the 2015-2016 theater season. Oliver will run Feb. 26-29, a double feature including Rapunzel and Robin Hood will be performed April 1-4, and Alice in Wonderland will run May 6-9. The tradition of a large summer musical will continue with Jesus Christ Superstar which will include nearly 100 community cast and crew members. This musical will be performed June 18-21 and 24-26.
Many community theaters have rumors of ghosts that reside inside their walls and haunt their stages. The Forum is no different. Local legend states that Charlie, an employee of the theater in the 1940s and 50s, haunts the theater. Charlie seems to roam the entire theater and all who have seen him thought he was a real, living person. Several hundred people have spotted Charlie, only knowing it was him by the outdated clothes that he wears.
I recently visited the forum for a production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. The production was fantastic and beautifully performed. However, neither my husband nor I spotted Charlie. At least we don’t think we did. White Christmas is set in both 1944 and 1954 so it is quite possible that Charlie mingled right in with the actors and actresses dressed in the clothes he would have been comfortable and familiar with.
The Foundation of the Arts is able to continue offering arts related education and entertainment to the community thanks to the outpouring of local support. If you are interested in auditioning for an upcoming performance, taking a dance or art class, volunteer in the crew of a production or even making a financial contribution to the FOA, you can learn more information on their webpage. You can also follow the FOA on Facebook to stay informed about performances, ticket sales and upcoming classes.
The Forum is located at 115 E. Monroe Ave. in Jonesboro.
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