College to reevaluate use of Colonial Theatre

by Laura King / Beacon Staff • September 10, 2015

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Inside Emerson's Colonial Theatre.
Inside Emerson's Colonial Theatre.

The future of the Emerson Colonial Theatre is unclear, according to President M. Lee Pelton.

The college chose not to renew its three-year lease, which ends in October, with the Citi Performing Arts Center, a local nonprofit that brings performances to its partner venues. Along with the Colonial, Citi Performing Arts Center operates in the nearby Wang and Shubert theatres.

Pelton said in an interview the college is currently discussing a number of options for the theatre’s use, but that he could not publicize them. He said that the year-long closure reported by the Boston Globe was an assumption, as Emerson has not yet determined how long the theatre will remain empty. He said that serious discussion of the Colonial’s purpose likely won’t take place until Emerson’s Board of Trustees meets on Oct. 28-29.

“The single fact is that we’re not renewing the lease [with the Citi Performing Arts Center],” Pelton said. “How the Colonial is used after that date is uncertain.”

According to Pelton, the space would not be used in connection to the current construction of the new 1-3 Boylston Place residence hall or the renovation of the Little Building, which is set to begin Aug. 2017.

Pelton said the college does have some objectives for the next phase of the Boylston Street theatre.

Emerson plans to preserve the Colonial’s history, revitalize the theatre interior, update maintenance systems, create more social space on campus, and ensure the property continues to be an educational environment. These goals were sent in an email from Pelton to Emerson community members regarding the theatre on Sept. 8.

The main focus now is repairing mechanical systems in the theatre, specifically electrical and heating, ventilating, and air conditioning, Pelton said.

Josiah Spaulding, president and CEO of the Citi Performing Arts Center, wrote in an email statement that the company has known for over a year that Emerson would be looking to end the lease and reevaluate the use of the Colonial Theatre.

“It has been a wonderful relationship,” Spaulding wrote, “And based on the college's evaluation, we hope to be back operating the theatre."