Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company secures its future, plans expansion

It’s been a tough year for historical theatres in Boston as first the Huntington Theatre on Mass Avenue was threatened with expulsion from its theatre, and then Emerson’s Colonial was in danger of being converted into a student cafeteria. The Colonial proposal was withdrawn this past Winter.
Yesterday, at a major news event in the Huntington Theatre, Mayor Martin J. Walsh joined Huntington Managing Director Michael Maso and developer John Matteson of QMG Huntington, LLC to announce a partnership that will allow the Huntington Theatre Company to stay in its current home, the Boston University Theatre.

The company announced plans to invest upward of $60 million in improvements – audience amenities and new support spaces, some located in the new development that will tower over the theatre. That is only possible because its future is secured, though the actual funds have not yet been secured, a major hurdle yet to be jumped. But the continuity of leadership at the Huntington and international acclaim of the company bodes well for its future.

We have a great deal of planning to do, and then we will have a great deal of money to raise. We can and we will fulfill the vision that this agreement makes possible.” – Michael Maso

Mayor Walsh declared, “The Huntington Theatre Company is here to stay, on Huntington Avenue where it belongs. From the very beginning we have been committed to bringing the key players to the table in order to maintain the Huntington’s home on the Avenue of the Arts.”

Over 200 people attended the press conference, including Huntington Artistic Director Peter DuBois, Huntington Board Chairman Carol G. Deane, incoming Huntington Board Chairman David Epstein, incoming Huntington Board President Sharon Malt, Chief of Economic Development John Barros, Chief of Arts and Culture Julie Burros, and Chief of Policy Joyce Linehan, who joined Mayor Walsh on stage.

In his speech, Mayor Walsh said, “The theatre’s legacy is rich and diverse, from its commitment to the works of famed African American playwright August Wilson, to its innovative partnership with Codman Academy Charter Public School. The Huntington is one of Boston’s great cultural treasures. I am thankful for the shared commitment of John Matteson and his team to our goals, and I look forward to the bright future of this theatre.”

Michael Maso said, “We are deeply grateful to Mayor Walsh and his administration for their essential role in helping find a solution which will allow the Huntington to not only continue to produce ambitious, large-scale works in a renovated and expanded Huntington Avenue theatre, but also to expand and enhance our services to audience members, young people, our neighborhood, and the theatre community of Boston.”

Following Maso, John Matteson of QMG Huntington, LLC said, “We would like to thank Mayor Walsh, his staff and the BRA for their guidance through this process. We look forward to a long relationship with the Avenue of the Arts and the new Huntington.”

“The Fenway community is so appreciative of the Mayor and his team’s accomplishment in keeping the Huntington Theatre Company on the Avenue of the Arts in the Fenway Cultural District,” said Kelly Brilliant, Executive Director of the Fenway Alliance, Inc. “The Huntington is a backbone not only for a dedicated, engaged arts audience in Boston, but is also a tangible presence, and intellectual and emotional touchstone in our community – the Fenway. On so many nights and afternoons, the theatre is a buzzing gathering place in the Fenway Cultural District. A great neighbor who welcomes us all, lifts our spirits and challenges our minds with fresh ideas and diverse perspectives – all in the form of powerful art.”

“Having long-term control over our mainstage theatre on a year-round basis is a huge step for the Huntington,” said Artistic Director Peter DuBois. “It means that we can explore additional artistic programming and partnerships throughout the year, and ensures that the Huntington can nurture future generations of theatre artists and arts organizations.”

Mayor Walsh ended with saying, “This is an exciting day, not just for the Huntington. This is an exciting day for the entire city of Boston.”

The Huntington is a local economic driver in the City of Boston, employing over 400 staff members and artists and generating more than $19 million annually in economic activity. Through its education programs, the Huntington provides programs for more than 33,000 youth and community members annually, many of them from Boston’s neighborhoods.

In October 2015, Boston University and the Huntington announced that they would dissolve their 33-year partnership in June 2017, and the BU Theatre complex would be sold on the open market. A local development company, QMG Huntington LLC, led by John Matteson, purchased the BU Theatre complex in May 2016. Thanks to the direct support of Mayor Walsh and his administration, the Huntington and QMG have now agreed:

* The Huntington will gain exclusive control of the historic theatre itself and the service wing to its west, which it plans to fully renovate at its own expense.

* The Huntington will expand its lobbies and other public spaces amenities into new shell and core space to be provided by QMG.

* QMG will develop the properties that now hold the Huntington’s production center, and the Huntington will relocate its scenic, paint, and prop shops in order to another location.

Under the new agreement, the scene, paint, and prop shops, which are currently housed in the buildings that adjoin the BU Theatre, will have to relocate. DuBois and Maso estimated that renovations to the playhouse will take roughly 12 months. They said the company will have to perform in alternative venues as they update the theater, which will likely occur during 2018-19 season.

More details will emerge in the coming months as the design and review process of the development is finalized, and in order to succeed the Huntington will embark on a major new capital fundraising campaign.

The City of Boston is currently leading Boston Creates, Boston’s cultural planning process, designed to create a long-term plan to prioritize, coordinate, and align public and private resources to strengthen cultural vitality in the City. Over the past year, the Boston Creates team undertook an extensive community engagement, holding three town halls, 118 community conversations, more than 80 focus groups and meetings, an online creative engagement participation survey and a crowd-sourced mapping of cultural assets. Using the data obtained through the process, the team worked closely with the Boston Creates Steering Committee and Leadership Council to develop a draft plan for public feedback. The final plan will be released this summer.

ABOUT THE HUNTINGTON THEATRE COMPANY

The Tony Award-winning Huntington Theatre Company is Boston’s leading professional theatre company and a cornerstone of Boston’s theatre community. The Huntington helps drive the local economy, enhances education for youth in Boston and across the Commonwealth, and helps build a vibrant, thriving community on the Avenue of the Arts and in the South End. The Huntington Theatre Company draws 200,000 audience members a year to its two venues – the BU Theatre on Huntington Avenue and the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA in the South End. The Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA was Boston’s first new theatre complex since 1925, and in addition to serving as the Huntington’s home for new plays, it services as an artistic hub for dozens of smaller theatres, performing groups, and community organizations each year.

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