It survived the movies in the 1920s that gradually required bigger and bigger houses for the new cinematic melodramas and spectacles.
In the 1960s and again in the 1980s it survived the wrecking ball of the city planners who envisioned a drive-through from Trumbull Street into the evolving arts district.
Now the Little Theatre (formerly the Lincoln Theatre) at 1 Lincoln St. has survived a prolonged gut rehab, and will again open in the spring.
That’s the news from Evelyn Rossetti-Ryan, the public relations and marketing manager for the Area Cooperative Educational Services, which operates the nearby half-day arts magnet high school, the Educational Center for the Arts (ECA).
ECA student plays have been produced for years at the Little Theatre. So have special community performances (like this one).
The theater, which has been dark for about five years, is about to light up again.
Theater History Lives!
The Little Theatre was built in 1924, part of “the little theater movement.”
Its purpose was to build smaller theaters that featured intimate, experimental, and more daring, often social-reform dramas. They were an alternative to the Cecil B. DeMille-style spectacles that had become increasingly the bailiwick of that new art form, the movies. It became the Lincoln Theatre, a popular art cinema that eventually shut down in the 1980s.
In 2009, ACES/ECA secured a $5.7 million state grant to modernize and overhaul the building.
Plans called for expanding the little theater from 6,000 to 10,000 square feet; completely renovating the interior; redoing the standing-on-its-head shoe-box addition that had been clamped on the east side of the structure; and adding state-of-the-art lighting and seating to make a theatrical space that would also be a first-rate learning and rehearsal classroom for ACES students.
Click here to read of those plans and approvals at meetings of the City Plan Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals in 2009.
The handiwork is now about to be unveiled. Iit has taken a few years longer than the originally projected one-year construction schedule. That’s in part because the building is a national historical landmark and in a residential neighborhood, said Rossetti-Ryan. “We really were very careful to not disturb the building, to keep the integrity, to accomplish the whole inside while not disturbing the outside took great care,” she said. She said the project came in on budget.
Among the new features: a sound-proof divider on the stage to accommodate two performances/rehearsals at once; platforms that can come down and be raised to create an orchestra space to support a broader range of performances; and theatrical lighting that will enhance not only drama, but also ECA’s dance performances.
Rossetti-Ryan confirmed that the theater will again be available for use by the public, but not in the first months after it reopens.
“Ghosts of the Little Theatre are happy that they’re well cared for,” she said.