by Robert Gillis
Published in The Foxboro Reporter April 2002
I’m not a regular theatergoer. I enjoy live shows, but the hassle of driving the 55 miles to the North Shore in Beverly to see my favorite, “A Christmas Carol” is thankfully a once a year chore, and Boston is simply too far, loud, expensive, and further hampered by the Big Dig.
So I was more than happy in February when my wife Sue told me she was taking me to a play right here in Foxboro at the Orpheum. I hadn’t been to our town theater in years
The play was called “A lesson before dying,” based on a work by Romulus Linney, and featured a riveting performance by all cast members. The audience – myself included – was mesmerized by the show and its powerful messages about dignity and being true to yourself even to the bitter end.
As I watched the drama unfold, I took time to look around and admire the theater. The Orpheum renovation is impressive; the venue is truly state-of-the art. I was thinking about how fortunate Foxboro was to have such an remarkable and nearby stage house.
I was far less impressed with the size of the audience – half the seats were empty.
A few weeks later, we attended another show at the Orpheum. This time the performer was Rebecca Parris, the internationally acclaimed jazz artist. I’ve never been a jazz fan but was blown away by Ms. Parris stage presence, range of voice, talent, and enthusiasm. The audience was clearly enjoying the show, but again I thought, why so many empty seats?
The Orpheum – I’m only starting to realize – is one of our towns best kept secrets. Foxboro – already a pretty cool place to live, as I’ve often said – has its own local theater, which hosts a variety of top quality shows, including Broadway musicals, plays by local artists, Celtic dance, Shakespeare, holiday events, comedies, and much more.
You might not know that our Orpheum Theatre was built in 1926 as a silent movie house, and that it operated as a movie house until it closed back in 1989.
The Foxborough Regional Center for the Performing Arts, Inc. purchased the building in 1993 and renovated it, and the Orpheum reopened in 1994 as a live performance facility.
But lately, no one seems to be noticing it’s there.
The venue signs are always updated, the theater notices run in the local papers and media, yet the seats are often half full. Sure, sometimes the shows are sold out – as they were a few weeks back, but other times, it’s almost as if no one knew the play was taking place.
It can be argued that perhaps the Orpheum hasn’t found its niche – after all, the genre of shows presented certainly runs the gamut – but a more accurate assessment would be that it offers something for everyone and won’t be pegged as a one-act venue.
So why aren’t people going to the Orpheum? Are we not artsy enough here in Foxboro? Do we not like live theater? I can’t imagine that to be the case. Theater broadens your horizons, exposes you to new ideas, and lets you experience great works you would otherwise never see.
Regardless of the reasons for the low attendance and interest, the hard fact is that the Orpheum may close in June, unless it can raise sufficient funds to keep the theater operational.
Over the next month, you will see Orpheum fundraisers to allow the theater to keep its doors open. For our local stage house, it’s do or die time.
As part of the fund-raising effort, a “Keep the Curtain Rising” committee is being formed, and the first fund-raiser will be an all-star benefit concert at the Orpheum on the afternoon of Sunday June 2, 2002. The impressive headliners will include Horns in the House, with special guest appearances by Rebecca Parris, Blues and R&B legend James Montgomery, and local eleven-year-old singing sensation Joanna Levesque. Many other surprise guests are being arranged.
Show times and prices will be announced shortly. Also look for the “Keep the Curtain Rising” button and T-Shirt campaign. For more information please call the Orpheum or my wife Susan.
While I encourage you to be generous toward this important and worthy effort, and even become a regular sponsor if you are able, I encourage you more to patronize and utilize and enjoy our terrific local playhouse.
Attend a play. See a show. Bring the kids to one of the comedies. It’s a wonderful way to spend an evening, it’s better than zoning in front of the TV, and encourages real thought and always proves enjoyable. And yeah, it’s “artsy.” It’s also a lot of fun and rewarding.
Also, our local playhouse remains far less expensive than seeing a play in Boston, and you don’t have to worry about inflated ticket process, Big Digs, traffic on the way home, or parking costs.
The Orpheum is yet another hidden treasure in Foxboro, but if we don’t start supporting it and patronizing it, it’s going to go away forever, and that will be everyone’s loss.
UPDATE: As of 2014 the Orpheum is stil open and better than ever, and offers a varierty of impressive shows as well as countless classes and opportunity. See http://www.baycolonyproductions.com/ for more!