by Victoria Wasylak
Photography by Jean Hangarter
Peek inside the Regent Theater in Arlington and you can catch a glimpse of the secrets to local success. Event posters that line the theater’s walls silently tell the venue’s story: a jumbo poster advertising The Exorcist and pizza, and autographed photo of local punk heroes The Dresden Dolls, a psychedelic lithograph of Edgar Winter’s previous tour stop all boast details of the venue’s decorated past.
Centennials have become a hard milestone to reach, especially on the local business scale, but that never held back Arlington’s Regent Theater from flourishing. The Regent celebrated its centennial with a vaudeville-style gala exactly 100 years since the theater’s grand opening this past Sunday, April 24.
Co-owner Leland Stein said that the entire gala is inspired by the theater’s grand opening celebration in 1916.
“Wouldn’t it be neat if, in a sense, for our centennial Gala celebration, we re-create the opening night as best we could?” he said.
While Stein knew that the Regent opened in 1916, it was an intern that unearthed the details of the opening ceremony at the Arlington library. Using the information from the original advertisement for the Regent’s opening in The Arlington Advocate newspaper, Stein has planned the centennial gala based on the opening ceremony’s events.
From burlesque performers, tap dancers, Houdini style magicians and the marvel of a performer walking across champagne bottles in high heels, the Gala was a certified Vaudeville-style variety show. The second half of the Gala consisted of a screening of silent film Rags, starring Mary Pickford, which Stein says the Mary Pickford Foundation made digital version to use especially for the Gala.
“That’s an appropriate way to celebrate our centennial and show the world that we’re still doing, in a sense, what the Regent Theater originally was, which was an entertainment center,” Stein said.
To this day, the Regent remains a place to showcase live music, comedy nights, film events and other cultural attractions. Within a month, the theater can shift from a hoppin’ comedy benefit locale and a haven for nerds eager to see a flick on the making of Star Wars to a swinging backdrop for the A-Town Jazz Festival. The near-500 capacity theater is an important cultural space for the Arlington community, even aggregating the restroom decals from now-closed venue Johnny D’s to preserve the local bar’s spirit.
“I often say that our niche is that we don’t really have a niche,” Stein said. “We’re not a traditional theater.”
Stein, who co-owns the Regent Theater with Richard Starvos, says that leasing the space to other events and their variety of events is what keeps the business thriving.
“It is very challenging to, like many other businesses, pay the bills and make enough money to keep going,” Stein said of owning the Regent.
According to Stein, previous owners of the Regent have had offers to sell the theater and transform into new ventures, from a restaurant, gymnasium and apartment complex. Arlington residents and longtime patrons like Judy Beatrice, however, remain grateful that the Regent is still intact.
Beatrice said that the Regent Theater was a major part of her childhood in the 1950s when she and other local children would watch episodes of cowboy hero Hopalong Cassidy for 10 cents on Saturday afternoons.
“We didn’t have TV, so Saturday afternoon [at the theater] was a big deal,” she said. “All of the mothers loved it because we were out of the house.”
Despite an offer to buy a $19.16 ticket to the gala, Beatrice said that she gladly bought her significantly more expensive orchestra seat to show her support for the Regent.
Before the beginning of the gala’s early 1900s-themed shenanagins, the Regent invited Arlington selectman Joe Curro, Jr. onstage to read the town’s official proclamation of Sunday as “Regent Theater Day.” As the crowd joined in to help read the proclamation, the sense of community became even stronger.
While onstage, Curro Jr. praised the Regent as one of the town’s biggest cultural forces.
“Arlington has a well-deserved reputation of arts and culture, and this is ground zero,” he said.