Dear Boston, You Have a Theater Problem

Chris Peterson

Anyone who knows me personally, knows how much I wax poetic about the city of Boston. The people, scenery, intimacy and of course, my beloved Red Sox. 

So you can imagine my despair to see that in the past couple of weeks, announced sales and changes to two of Boston's most historic theaters. 

A couple of weeks ago, it was announced that  Boston University plans to sell its BU Theatre, which it had made available, rent-free, to the highly regarded Huntington Theatre Company since its founding in 1982.

Boston's Colonial Theater


The next day, the Boston Globe published reports that Emerson College plans on renovating the Colonial Theater. The plans would reportedly turn the space into a multipurpose student center, including a visitors’ center, a student café, and a black box theater built upon the current stage. 

That would mean that a theater that once housed the out-of-town tryouts for legendary productions such as Anything Goes, Oklahoma!, Carousel, Annie Get Your Gun, Follies and Grand Hotel, would become a visitor's center.

Boston University Theatre

What makes these decisions so baffling is that they're coming from two institutions that pride themselves on the theatrical arts. Boston University and Emerson College are two of the highest rated performing arts schools in the entire country. So for both of these schools to eliminate and radically alter these theaters is as ironic as it is tragic. 

And while Emerson's plans are to drastically change the space, there is still an opportunity for the BU Theater to remain a theater. However the sale is public and it can be bought by anyone, therefore can be altered any way the new owner sees fit. Given the theater's close proximity to Fenway Park, there is definitely going to be interest into developing that building into something else. 

Of course these are just the latest blows to the once mighty theater district that would actually rival what exists in New York City. 

In the 1940s, the city had over 50 theaters. Now, with these two changes, not to mention the closing of the historic Factory Theatre last year, that number is less than 10. 

The reasoning for the changes and closings are equally disturbing since it had nothing to do with dwindling attendance. It all has to do with money. In the case of the Factory Theater, the plan is to tear down the theatre to make way for a new fitness center for the apartment tenants that live in the adjoining building. 

Boston is a fantastic city and has been a longtime home for many a theatre professional. I am saddened to think that the performing arts scene is dwindling in such a historically welcoming city for theatre. 

Here's hoping these owners rethink their plans, but if Stephen Sondheim himself, can't talk any sense into them, there's no hope for the rest of us.