Koch Memorial Forest Theatre

The Koch Memorial Forest Theatre (KMFT) sits at the eastern edge of the historic core of the University campus. In 2019, the 100th anniversary of the theatre, the University initiated a feasibility study to renew the facility and enable the theatre to play a more significant role in the life of the campus as well as the larger community. The result of that process is a bold vision for the theatre as a place that integrates new technologies, enhances program support, and provides universal accessibility while retaining the timeless, understated, and naturalized quality of this campus gem.

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Theater rehearsal at Forest Theatre
Actors prepare for a play at Forest Theatre

Koch Memorial Forest Theatre

The Forest Theatre is a stone amphitheater structure built into the hillside on the eastern edge of the UNC-Chapel Hill campus and contiguous with Battle Park. Outdoor drama was first performed on this site in 1916 to celebrate the tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death. William C. Coker, botany professor and founder of Coker Arboretum (also under the Garden’s care today), chose the location. A few years later, Professor Frederick Koch, founder of the Carolina Playmakers, developed the location into a permanent theater. The stone stage backdrop and stone terraced seating area of the Forest Theatre was built with Work Projects Administration funds in 1940 and further improved in 1948.

The Carolina Playmakers were a campus-based theatre group that originated in 1918. Founded by Frederick Koch, the Carolina Playmakers became a nationally recognized ensemble with the purpose of developing new playwriting talent. The company played an important role in the development of American folk drama and provided a training ground for generations of theatre artists. Today, the UNC-based PlayMakers Repertory Company carries on the name and traditions of the theatre group that had its beginnings at the Forest Theatre.