Over the last few years, Westerly has experienced a steady growth of not only new businesses in the downtown area but also a revival of historic icons that are making a comeback. The United Theater is one such icon that has glimmered back to life with its flashing red lights, like a heartbeat getting stronger and building momentum.
From 1926 up until the late 80s, the United was a film lovers paradise and a mecca for vaudeville entertainers and theater aficionados. It welcomed its share of performers from world-renowned opera stars, vaudeville troupes, and even the late famous Sammy Davis Jr. across its stage.
As silent movies started to fade away The United gained the go-to-place reputation when it became the first theater in the region to feature new film technology known as “talkies,” eventually transitioning to a full-time theater featuring some of the best movies and classics such as Star Wars that was released in 1977 and played there for an entire year given its popularity. But unfortunately, by 1986 the theater had outlived its run, closed its doors and was left in disarray for decades.
Spring forward a few years to 2006 when the Westerly Land Trust purchased the property as part of their Urban Program to focus resources on the redevelopment and enhancement of commercial properties in downtown Westerly.
During the last couple of years, the doors opened at the United Theater, exhaling a revival breath as popup events and fundraising venues welcomed theater goers once more. And The United is building momentum with its capital campaign and has currently raised 7 million dollars towards a $12 million goal, according to Maureen Fitzgerald, chair of the United Theater Board of Directors.
“When we have 80 percent of the money pledged, we will begin the renovation project,” she said. Holding firm to the United’s proud roots of uniting the community through music and the arts, their new mission statement will continue to “unite the communities through arts by providing several different venues of the arts including theater, live performances, book signings etc.” Maureen said.
They are also united in forming partnerships, one of those including their neighbor from around the block the Knickerbocker Cafe which will host the Knickerbocker Music Center with plans to set up its music school in the theater, offering music classes for all ages, both ensemble and individual lessons, even renting instruments to its students.
The United Theater will also work in partnership with the Rhode Island Philharmonic Music School and feature instructors who are local musicians and teachers from Westerly, South County, and Southeastern Connecticut. According to Tony Nunes, who runs programming and marketing for the United Theater, they hope to go full force with renovations starting in January 2019, with a projected timeline of a year to a year and a half for completion.
“We will keep building awareness and understanding of what we are doing,” says Tony. The new renovation plans include incorporating a full genre of jazz, classical, opera, ballet, modern dance, and popular music in keeping with its strong musical tastes for the community to fully appreciate.
The Artists Cooperative Gallery will be moving back to its space next door to showcase visual artist work, also a part of the newly renovated space will be a black-box theatre to accommodate up to 650 people as well as a 90 seat cinema showing those first-run and revival films that made it such a popular venue in the 1920’s.
“Stay tuned,” says Tony. “we are making more partnerships in the music world, locally with small productions and really great national headliners.”
For current and future events and to learn more visit: unitedtheatre.org