The History of the Modern Theatre
Suffolk’s commitment to the Modern Theatre is inspired, in part, by the Modern’s history of innovation. The Modern opened in 1914 as the first venue designed specifically to show motion pictures in Boston. It was described by The Boston Herald as “the most elaborate and costly theatre of its size in New England.” The Modern screened the first sound film in Boston, The Jazz Singer, and pioneered the double-feature.
Despite its status on the National Register of Historic Places (1979) and designation as a Boston Landmark (1995), the Modern suffered from decades of neglect and deterioration. With Suffolk’s new management, construction, and programming, the Modern will once again become a vital gathering place for the Suffolk community and the public at large.
The rebirth of the Modern Theatre completes a vision laid out by Suffolk University and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who made historic preservation of the Theatre District a priority, including the restoration of three landmark theaters. The Modern, and a new Suffolk University residence hall that rises above it, bring important activity to the Downtown Crossing area, contributing to that neighborhood’s ongoing revitalization.
The Renovation of a Historic Theatre
The approach to the renovation reflects the eclectic history of the space. Working closely with CBT architects and our theatre consultant, our renovation looks both backwards and forwards in time to reflect values appropriate to an historic theatre in the center of Boston’s theatre district.
The elegant Renaissance-style marble and sandstone façade and selected interior elements are being restored and re-installed.
The Interior – The Lobby
A decorative frieze will hang in the sound and light lock of the lobby. This twenty-two foot scrim was originally conceived as a decorative covering for a large acoustic hole built into the three-story wooden proscenium wall of the theatre. Before the demolition of the interior it was removed intact and lovingly restored—the only decorative feature of the interior to have survived nearly one hundred years of wear and tear intact.
The Interior – The Stage House
In order to bring more theatricality to the interior design, we have commissioned Tony-award-winning John Lee Beatty, one of the world’s most recognized scene painters and designers, to create an original mural design for the stage house walls. The central design elements feature a modernization of some of the most distinctive historic features of the 1914 theatre. Although the design is generated with help of state-of-the-art computer technology, all of the surfaces will be over-painted by the artist himself.
The painterly treatment of the interior harkens back to the intimate 18th century Georgian playhouses whose intimate relationship of the audience to the stage put a special emphasis on the spoken and sung word. Yet the flexibility of our renovation aspires to new theatres such as the Wyle Theatre at the Dallas Theatre Center and Zankel Hall, the newest performance space at New York City’s Carnegie Hall.
Our programming is appropriate to the intimate 185 capacity of our historic theatre. Our professional programming will be divided into three areas: Conversations at the Modern, Movies at the Modern, and Performance at the Modern. Some highlights include conversations with Lewis Black, Peter Beinart, James Carroll, Robert Jay Lifton, and Maxine Hong Kingston.