On the cusp of their ninth season, the minds behind Forward Theater Company are focused on the future — the 10th season just over the horizon.

So, fittingly, finding a through line for their 2017-'18 season was a no brainer.

This is the “what’s next” season, artistic director Jen Uphoff Gray said.

“All three plays look at the future and what it holds,” she said. “...the first looks at what’s next for two young people, then what’s next for a community in crisis and the spring slot asks what’s next for us as a society. That growth from micro to macro is how I’d like to say is how we built our season.”

Forward’s first show of the season, “I and You” was a company member favorite a few years ago right as they secured the rights to produce “Silent Sky.” “Silent Sky” tells the story of Henrietta Leavitt, a mostly forgotten astronomer whose work has had a big impact on astronomy today.

Both plays were written by Lauren Gunderson and after the overwhelmingly positive feedback for “Silent Sky” Forward decided to do “I and You,” Uphoff Gray said.

“I and You” is a two person production focused on a pair of high school students working on a project about Walt Whitman.

But the play goes deeper than that and touches on “life and love and loss and being a human and everything,” according to Uphoff Gray.

Gunderson will be in town for local events during the run of “I and You.” And, according to Uphoff Gray, is excited for Forward’s production because it is one of the few that cast an African American performer to play Caroline and a white actor to play Anthony. Many other productions have the roles reversed with a white Caroline and an African American Anthony.

Uphoff Gray said the casting ofcharacters is an important point for the show wherein Gunderson included a description in the script saying that the two characters can be played by actors of any ethnicity, but it’s important for them to be from different racial backgrounds.

Also coming this season at Forward are “Exit Strategy” and “Marjorie Prime.”

“Exit Strategy” takes place in the teacher’s lounge of a failing Chicago public high school. The cast of seven — six playing teachers and one a student — must decide how to handle the news that their school is scheduled to close.

It all comes back to the underlying issue of how institutions are failing students and communities of color which is a major conversation to be had right now, Uphoff Gray said.

“First and foremost this is a believable story,” she said. “Secondarily it struck us as a wonderful opportunity for an important discussion.”

Another important conversation starter will be “Marjorie Prime” whose cinematic counterpart was released in August after receiving critical acclaim in the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

The play is set in the near future as technology has advanced to allow extremely lifelike artificial intelligence.

It raises the question of “just because we can do something does that mean we should?,” Uphoff Gray said.

“This show hits me on a personal level,” she added. “I lost my mom when she was way too young. But would I want an AI version of my mom around if she looked like her and talked like her? I don’t know. I can see the theory of why that’s creepy and wrong, but I can also see why it would be comforting. I’m excited to have a play that lets us mess with those ideas.”


Amanda Finn is an arts and lifestyle reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.