History of the Organization
The Colonial Theatre prior to renovations in 2021/2022
The Colonial Theatre opened its doors in 1924 as a grand, state-of-the-art performing arts facility. Superbly constructed, beautifully decorated, and with wonderful acoustics, The Colonial hosted live performances, film, opera, theatre and vaudeville – exciting large audiences from Keene and beyond.
THE DARK YEARS
The growing popularity of television in the 1940s brought on the rapid decline of vaudeville. By 1945 The Colonial Theatre discontinued live entertainment, and in the 1950s a permanently fixed screen was installed exclusively for film, which prohibited the use of the stage for live performances. In 1984 the Theatre was purchased by Steve Levin and Ira Gavin who brought back live entertainment. But the theatre continued to fall into disrepair.
A NONPROFIT IS BORN
In 1992 a group of community leaders, artists and business people in Keene began discussing the potential restoration of The Colonial and converting it to a non-profit community performing arts center. In late 1993 the non-profit arts organization The Colonial Theatre Group acquired the theatre and began a campaign to renovate the landmark venue. The Keene community rallied around its beloved theatre, raising $2.5 million for renovations.
The Colonial Theatre became the Monadnock Region’s preeminent performing arts center and niche film venue, and a key component in the economic engine of downtown Keene and the surrounding area.
- The Colonial Theatre was named to the New Hampshire State Register of Historic Places in 2004.
- Annually, more than 50,000 patrons enjoy performances ranging from international touring productions to The MET: Live in HD, to locally produced performances.
- Our Student Matinee Series engages more than 8,000 students and their educators from over 70 area schools to experience a variety of programs and workshops.
- Local arts organizations and other nonprofits use The Colonial’s production resources and rely on the theatre as their performance home and fundraising venue, enhancing the cultural and creative spirit of the Monadnock Region.
- The Colonial’s Film Series draws patrons of all ages and from all walks of life encouraging ideas, social commentary and dialogue. It is the community’s opportunity to see first-run independent films on the big screen.
1923: Construction of The Colonial Theatre begins.
1924: January 29, The Colonial Theatre opens with the silent film The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Owner Charles Baldwin gives away 6,000 free tickets.
1929: Thornton Wilder begins spoken-word tradition reading The Women of Argos.
1932: Amelia Earhart lectures on the possibility of trans-Atlantic air travel; Maude Adams, the highest-paid actor of her day, performs her final role as Maria in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
1944: Iconic neon marquee installed; in continuous use through present day.
1945: Live entertainment discontinued.
1950s: Permanent Cinemascope screen installed.
1984 –1993: The Colonial Theatre purchased and operated by Steve Levin & Ira Gavin. Live entertainment returns with performances by artists such as John Prine, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris.
1993: The Colonial Theatre Group, Inc. is formed as a nonprofit corporation and purchases The Colonial Theatre.
1994-2000: The Colonial undergoes restoration.
2007: Aging main doors and clerestory windows replaced with renewably sourced, locally crafted, historically accurate doors and windows.
2019: The Colonial Theatre celebrates 95 years of continuous operation and 25 years as a nonprofit organization. The process begins to undergo a major renovation and rebrand as The Colonial Performing Arts Center.
2020: COVID-19 closes the doors of The Colonial Theatre in March. The building at 20 Commercial Street is purchased and renovations begin to create a second smaller venue (SHOWROOM).
2021: The Colonial Performing Arts Center announces a 12.5 million dollar capital campaign. SHOWROOM is completed and begins operations. Renovations begin on the historic theatre.
2022: The newly renovated historic theatre opens to the public in April.
Notable performances have included: B.B. King, Phish, The Beach Boys, Martha Graham Dance Company, The Chieftains, Pat Benatar, Kronos Quartet, David Sedaris and Kris Kristofferson.