City continues to manage, improve Strand Theatre

The Strand Theatre in Uphams Corner has undergone a number of renovations and updates since the city of Boston took over management of the 87-year old property last July. This week representatives from the city's Department of Neighborhood Development led the Reporter on a tour of the theatre, to discuss where it's been and plans for the future.

"The city took over interim management to keep it up," said Barbara Salfity, deputy director of real estate for DND. "We want to be the steward of the Strand until we can put it into the right hands."

Last fall, the city issued Request for Proposals for a new team to come in and manage the theatre after the city's 25-year agreement with the M. Harriet McCormick Center for the Arts expired June 30, 2004. More than 15 groups picked up the proposal, but the city received no bids. Since then, the city has set about making necessary improvements to the theatre's physical plant, while the Fund for Boston Neighborhoods has managed the theater's operations and a task force was formed to prioritize improvements to the theatre and plan for its future.

Perhaps the most noticeable change to the theater is the new seats that have been installed. A rich maroon color, the new seats in the orchestra section match the theatre's old seats in color and detail, but have hinged armrests that swing open for handicapped accessibility. Also in the orchestra section, seats were removed to open up space for patrons in wheel chairs.

The most serviceable seats taken out of the orchestra level were refurbished and used to replace seats in the mezzanine level.

Other work, such as updates to the building's plumbing system, is not as visible but would make the theatre attractive in a future RFP. The city has also installed a new catwalk, laid down new carpeting in some of the backstage dressing rooms, and replaced the buildings fire doors.

In patches throughout the building, workers have uncovered beneath layers of old paint and grime the theatre's original wood and paintwork. The city will likely not undertake a full restoration project, said Salfity, but will work on other structural improvements. Salfity pointed to the need for repairs to the stage above the orchestra pit and for making the back of the theatre compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In the immediate future, the Strand will play host to two productions of The Nutcracker - one produced by Boston Ballet with two shows this week, and the "Urban Nutcracker," scheduled for five shows on Dec. 10-11 and 17-18. Information about all upcoming shows at the Strand is available on-line at ticketweb.com. The creation of an on-line box office was another update made since the theatre has been under the city's watch. Next month, the Martin Luther King Celebration will be held at the Strand on Jan. 15.

Melodi Greene has managed the theatre since April and saw the house filled for 200 nights in the last year. She overseas productions and various youth programs at the theatre.

According to Salfity, the Strand Task Force met approximately two weeks ago, and plans to have a public meeting at the theatre after the first of the year to get feedback on future endeavors for the theatre and show the community the work that's been done already.

"We see the Strand as one of the anchor institutions in Uphams Corner, both from an economic standpoint and preserving the cultural presence," said Salfity.