Without crowds, Arlington’s Regent Theatre battles through pandemic

Sep 18, 2020

By Jesse Collings
Posted Sep 15, 2020 at 12:45 PM Updated Sep 15, 2020 at 12:45 PM

“You can’t keep scrapping and clawing forever,” Leland Stein, co-owner of the Regent Theatre, said.

The Regent has not hosted any events with live audiences since March 13, putting a real strain on the Medford Street institution that has hosted live performances since 1916. The pandemic has done a number on many businesses, but perhaps none of have been hit harder than theaters specializing in live events, and there is currently no definite timetable for them to resume business.

“On March 13 we had a sold out show that night, but a few hours before it was supposed to start we had to cancel, and we haven’t hosted any crowds since,” Stein said. “It has been difficult following the state as they go through the phased plan, we had hope that as part of Phase III we would be able to open in some capacity, but we have not been able to. Theaters have been open with a limit of 25 people, but that is only for films.”

Stein noted that none of the 20 people on Governor Charlie Baker’s Reopening Advisory Board are from the world of arts, entertainment or live event production. He said that it doesn’t make sense for him for theaters to be limited to only 25 people as a general rule.

“If it is all about the statistic of limiting eight people per 1,000 square feet, than in a 9,000-square-foot building like the Regent, we should be able to have 72 people, distributed over two levels, and have them easily distanced apart from one another,” Stein said. “If we could get that number, combined with streaming our events, we could get to a place where we might be able to approach to what we were doing (in revenue) normally.”

Stein said the town, as well as his landlord, the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, and local residents have been supportive of the Regent during this time, but eventually the theater will need to start bringing in more revenue to remain a viable business.

“It is in everyone’s interest for us to be here and to see live events, but right now everyone’s hands are tied,” Stein said.

In the meantime, Stein and the staff at the Regent have been making investments in order to live stream performances and to hopefully generate revenue from people watching at home. It has been a learning process as lighting, sound and video equipment is altered to be a production geared to be viewed through a screen and not live and in person. Events however, are beginning to trickle in and over the next coming weeks, a few fundraising events for the Regent will be taking place.

On Friday, Sept. 18, the Regent will be hosting an international event that will celebrate the life and career of rock n’ roll legend Jimi Hendrix on the 50th Anniversary of his death. The event will be live streamed beginning at 6:30 pm, with a special presentation from English author and filmmaker Peter Neal, who will be live from England and presenting clips from his new documentary on Hendrix, “Starting at Zero.” The presentation will be followed by a live musical tribute to Hendrix from professional Boston-area musicians, recorded live from the Regent.

“This has been a personal project for myself and I had a lot of plans for it (before the pandemic),” Stein, who is co-producing the event, said. “We are collaborating with folks from England and we got an all-star group of musicians, and we will be broadcasting to a world wide audience.”

Future events also include a showing on Friday, Sept. 25 of “Come Together” a rock opera created and performed by the Regent’s house band, the Ultrasonic Rock Orchestra, as well as as a Sept. 27 performance by local comedian, activist and political candidate Jimmy Tingle on Sept. 27.

For more information on the Regent Theatre and to purchase any of their upcoming shows, visit regenttheatre.com.