Oldest theatre in Boston shuts down temporarily

by Jeannie Rodriguez / Beacon Staff • September 8, 2011

Boston’s oldest continuously operating theater closed its doors this summer with no projection of when it will open again. The Colonial Theatre went dark in July after negotiations failed between Emerson College, owner of the theater, and Broadway Across

America-Boston, the organization that has leased the theater over the last decade.Andrew Tiedemann, vice president of communications and marketing at Emerson College, said the closure of the theater resulted from bad timing and lack of communication between the two parties.

Anticipating that its Colonial lease would end on August 31, 2011, Broadway Across America-Boston approached Emerson in January 2010 to sign a new deal. Tiedemann said the college told its longtime tenants that it first wanted to explore other potential producers to lease the theater before signing a contract.

That led Broadway Across America-Boston to seek other options, too. When Emerson came back to them to renegotiate the original deal, it was too late.

“Of course, nobody wants to see [the Colonial] go dark,” said Rich Jaffe, Broadway Across America- Boston vice president, to the Boston Globe. “But you get to the point where you have to find a venue for your productions.”

According to their website, Broadway Across America-Boston will present two musicals next season at the Shubert Theatre, part of the Citi Performing Arts Center. The remainder of the theatre company’s nine-production season will be presented at the Boston Opera House.

Emerson is using the period of time the Colonial is closed to upgrade the sprinkler system, with renovations taking place in August and September. Tiedemann said Emerson would have had to close the theater to make these changes regardless of the scheduling conflict.

“This is Emerson College; we’re theater people,” Tiedemann said. “We can’t see the future, but hopefully this isn’t for long.”

He said the college is continuing to negotiate with prospective tenants but declined to give the names of any potential leasers.

Luke Jones, a graduate student and graphic designer for ArtsEmerson, said he is not too concerned about the Colonial closing.

“I've heard it through the Emerson grapevine that Broadway Across America will most likely eventually renegotiate for it and it will probably reopen in a year or two,” Jones said.

Theater education student Chris Sawey said he is saddened by the theater’s closing and hopes Emerson fills the vacancy soon.

“Who could possibly be better than Broadway Across America?” Sawey said. “The great thing about the Colonial Theatre was that it brought people from all over the city, but who knows, maybe this is part of Emerson’s master plan of some sort. It’s just a matter of time before they see it take a toll on the community.”