Q&A with Leland Stein: Regent owner talks about past and future

Sep 23, 2011

Q&A with Leland Stein: Regent owner talks about past and future

Arlington —

In the coming months, the Regent Theatre will be celebrating its 95th anniversary. Co-owner Leland Stein recently spoke with the Advocate about the theatre’s history, future plans and involvement with the upcoming Arlington International Film Festival.

How long have you owned the Regent Theatre?

We’re really coming up on 10 years. Gary Adelson bought the theatre building in 2001, just about exactly 10 years ago this month. And I became involved early in 2002, so it’s been almost 10 years for me as well. Richard Stavros and I are partners and we co-own the Regent Theatre and lease the space from Gary, who continues to own the entire building.

I know you were involved in the music industry for some time. Did that prompt you to become involved with the Regent?

Yeah, indirectly. I was always involved in the music business and did everything from music journalism to radio programming and disc jockeying. I managed a record store and then worked for Rounder Records in the ‘90s, which is the largest independent record company in the country. And then I worked for a music technology company from 1999 to 2000, which was called ETC Music. We developed what was called “music teller,” which was like an ATM device for downloading music direct to MP3 players. We were ahead of our time and, like a lot of businesses from that era, lost our funding. The music industry really changed and CDs were on the out and everything was becoming digital. There were fewer and fewer jobs. I’ve lived in Arlington a long time and read in the Advocate about a guy buying the Regent Theatre. And I said, “Oh, well, that sounds interesting” and wrote him a note saying, “I think I could help you out in getting publicity.” And that’s how I got started here.

Do you think your involvement in the music industry informed your vision for the theatre?

Well, it has certainly given me more of a focus on music concerts, which is the primary focus of what we present at the Regent Theatre. But the great thing about the Regent is its versatility. We can do any kind of live performance. We do primarily music concerts, but we do family shows, theater, comedy and dance presentations. But we also have the big screen, so we still can do 35-millimeter projection and digital film projection. In addition to being a performing arts center, we do have special film events and several exclusive things like “Sing-Along Mary Poppins,” which we do every Thanksgiving weekend and “The Sound of Music Sing-Along,” which we do every Christmas weekend. You know, we also do a lot of independent film and documentaries. We do adventure film festivals. We do mostly music concerts here and we have a great size for that and great acoustics.

Speaking of your vision for the Regent, do you think that vision has changed in the years since you first assumed ownership?

Not a lot has changed over time, in terms of overall vision. But you learn over time what kinds of things work and don’t work. I mean, none of us, Gary, Rick, myself and anyone who started out here, had any background in theater or in presenting concerts, so it was kind of learn-as-you-go. And your tendency is to present things that you like. But just because you like them doesn’t mean people will see them. You really have to focus on the business side of things and you want to present quality events. But you also want to present things that are low-risk or less risky with a certain guarantee of income, which is another reason why we rent the theatre.

We rent the theatre to outside organizations and promoters. And when you’re renting the theatre, it’s a guarenteed profit. But when you’re producing and presenting your own shows, then you’re at risk for losing a lot of money. I think it’s a unique place and I think we try to mix being a community theatre as we do much within the community, for the community and with input from the community. We do a lot with Arlington Children’s Theatre, Arlington Catholic High School and the Legacy Dancers of the Dance Inn, who rent studio space from us below the Regent. So we have that element of being a community theatre, but because of what we present, we have a lot of nationally and internationally touring artists and exclusive film presentations. We do a lot beyond being just a community theatre.

Do you feel that the community aspect is a draw for the theatre?

There’s a problem. And the problem is that a lot of people within Arlington do like the idea of the Regent but they don’t come to events at the Regent Theatre. And that’s challenging. We’re always puzzling over that. It’s that syndrome of people not appreciating what’s in their own backyard. That’s one explanation. We all live in and around Boston. But how often do you do Boston, touristy things unless someone’s coming from out of town? And then you remember, ‘Oh, there are some very cool things nearby here.’ When asked about the theatre, people say, ‘Oh, I’ve been meaning to go.’ People have busy lives with their computers, their work, and their home theaters. We’re trying to get people out of their homes and remember how exciting it is to see a live show or screening.

We have a fundraising event we’re doing to kick off our 95th anniversary on Sept.25 with a very Arlington focus. We have performers from Arlington and we’ll bring in elements of the history of the Regent and how it’s been important to the community throughout its history and up until today. We’re just trying to figure out more ways to get the community involved.

Via that strategy, do you feel like you are going to be modifying any of the performances that are usually showcased?

Well, just in terms of that one event, Arlington Town Day is Sept. 17 and our fundraising event is the following week, Sunday. Arlington is full of talented people. There are a lot of musicians, people from the arts, who have settled in Arlington. I kind of want to use it as a showcase for them, someone like Deborah Hanson-Conant, the electric harpist, who has been Grammy nominated. She’s always been a big supporter of ours and she will be here once again at that event. We’re also going to showcase some of the talented people from local schools. It’s going to be quite something. It’s going to be a real throwback to the days of the Regent as a vaudeville theatre.

In recent years, how do you think the Regent has kept that spirit of vaudeville alive?

Part of it is the mix of events that we do here. A lot of what we do here has, in a sense, always been done here. When the Regent first opened in 1916, it was a live vaudeville house. I don’t think it was, starting out, showing movies. And it’s gone through some dark times. But the overall size of the venue and the atmosphere has pretty much stayed the same. Some people have been coming here all their life; they have lived in Arlington for decades. One of the cool things we did recently was our Vegas-style tribute show featuring tributes to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. And a woman came, Mrs. Viano; she and her husband were previous owners of the Regent starting in 1946 and she hadn’t been in awhile. She’s now close to 90 years old.  And she was saying how thrilled she was to see such a great show but also that we were keeping things going in the way that she and her husband had. Now, I think throughout its history, there were times that the Regent was primarily a film house. It was the Bombay Cinema before we took over, showing Bollywood films. So I think that we’re really paying tribute to the Regent’s history and continuing the tradition in that we have a little bit of everything: music, theater, dance, comedy, and kids’ shows. But, at the same time, we still have the big screen to show films.

What do you envision for the theatre’s future?

Yeah, well, make it to our hundreth, that’s our goal. One idea we’re kicking around is to maybe use this fall as a means for focusing on our anniversary — the great variety of events that we have in store for the fall but to also use it as a kind of kickoff for our hundreth anniversary in five years. We’re going to have a membership drive that starts on Town Day. In fact, this fundraising event on the 25th of September is going to be free to members, to people who buy membership. I think it’s a challenge, especially in this economy, to thrive and to keep thriving.

Why did you agree to have the Regent host the Arlington International Film Festival?

Well, when they approached us, I thought it was a perfect match. We’ve already talked about our facilities here being able to screen 35-millimeter film. When we showcase film, it’s great when it’s tied into a special event especially because we don’t regularly show film on an ongoing basis. It’s even easier to get attention when it’s a film festival. When they approached us and told us their idea and how they wanted to focus on international films and films that have an impact on both international and local culture, it just seemed like a good match for us. Also, the timing was good because after the first week in October, when they’re here, we’ll be moving into six weeks of shows where there’s going to be a lot of elaborate staging, which will be blocking the screen. So we may not be able to show films for six weeks or so. So we wanted to go out with a bang.

Read more: Q&A with Leland Stein: Regent owner talks about past and future - - The Arlington Advocate http://www.wickedlocal.com/arlington/archive/x1987954903/Q-A-with-Leland-Stein-Regent-owner-talks-about-past-and-future#ixzz1Yorgy4TA