Trinity Repertory Company

During the 1910s, entertainment venues were in a state of flux. They were originally created as spaces for live performances. With the advent of early film, many venue owners tried to switch entirely from live shows to movies – but found that they weren’t particularly lucrative. To increase profits, venues showcased highly popular vaudeville acts and supplemented them with film, often at the very end of the night. Despite contracting desirable shows, these venues were often overcrowded, inelegant, and uncomfortable. The Emery brothers saw an opportunity to build an opulent, spacious theatre space dedicated specifically to vaudeville performances. This venue was called Emery’s Majestic, and it was just that — majestic.

The stunning exterior features a white terra cotta facade with light green and gold grapevine detailing. The large arched window at the center of the building’s front allows in light to both the upper and lower lobbies. Walking in the main entrance and looking up, one would see an elliptical opening to the second floor and above to a leaded glass dome — all of which is still intact. The original auditorium space, done in an opulent, art nouveau style, could seat 3,000 people. When it opened, Emery’s Majestic was the pinnacle of elegance in performing arts venues in Providence.

The theatre opened in April 1917. The owners ran another, smaller Providence venue called The Emery. They relocated shows from that space to the Majestic upon the Majestic’s opening. Their zeal for a bigger, grander space didn’t necessarily take into account whether they could actually steadily fill the seats at the massive new venue, and they slowly ran out of resources. By early 1918, the Emery Brothers leased out the Majestic to another local theatre manager who had ample connections and could pull in bigger and better names. Emery’s Majestic became the Shubert Majestic.

From the late 1910s through the 1920s, the Shubert Majestic hosted touring companies of ever-expanding vaudeville, burlesque, and revue shows. Like the Providence Opera House, Shubert’s Majestic contracted performance troupes that included bevies of performers and whole chorus lines of female dancers, a collective group who would roll in on the local train line with a train car’s load of staging, equipment, and costuming. They would unload, perform for a week, and pack up to head to the next city. In the early 1920s, the Majestic hosted Al Jolson in both Sinbad and Bombo; acclaimed Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova, who toured the world internationally several times over; and the touring production of Chu Chin Chow, a musical comedy based on the story of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. The latter went so far as to include live elephants into the show!

By the mid-1920s, the Majestic became a first-run movie theatre as the medium evolved and became more and more popular. An organ was installed to accompany the silent films. The Majestic stayed a movie theatre through the 1940s and early 1950s, before falling on hard times. Enter Trinity Repertory Company.

Trinity Rep was originally founded in the early 1960s by local theatre lovers who wanted to see outstanding theatre without having to travel to Boston or New York. They founded the company and opened their first production at Trinity Union Methodist Church, located on Broad Street. Support grew throughout the Company’s first decade, which eventually resulted in grants to acquire the Majestic. In 1973, Trinity acquired the building and renovated the interior extensively, including splitting the 3,000 seat auditorium into two smaller theatres: the Dowling Theatre, which seats 250 people, and the Chace Theatre, with seating for over 500. The building conversion also included adding on administrative offices, rehearsal spaces, and production shops, the latter of which are situated on the theatre’s original stage boards.

Images

Proscenium of the Emery's Majestic As of this writing, this is the only known extant image of the original interior of Emery's Majestic's auditorium. It features the stage's proscenium done in an ornate art nouveau style. Source: Cinema Treasures: cinematreasures.org Date: 1917
Emery's in the Snow Taken from the corner of Washington and Aborn Streets, this photo shows Emery's Majestic on a snowy day. The marquee advertises the film Tobacco Road, which was released in 1941. Also note the trolley at the center of the image; Providence was criss-crossed with trolley lines in this time period, making travel across neighborhoods very easy. Source: Providence Public Library: VM021_131 Date: 1941
Lobby Before Renovation In 1971, Emery's Majestic was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Two years later, Trinity Repertory Company bought the building and renovated it. In this photo, taken in the lower lobby, you can see multiple levels of the building: street-level; a balcony on the building's second floor; a stained glass dome on a third level; and the gaping entrance toward the auditorium. Today, much of the lobby's original plasterwork and wrought iron detailing is still intact. The glass dome is still visible, but the stained glass transom above the entry doors has been removed. Source: National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form via Rhode Island Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission Creator: William L. Smith Date: January 1972
Upper Lobby When Emery's Majestic opened in 1917, patrons could congregate in either the lower or upper lobbies. The upper lobby, seen here, featured a balcony looking downward as well as a view of the stunning stained glass dome atop the theatre. The interior lobby spaces were restored to their original stateliness in the early 2000s. Source: Trinity Repertory Company Date: 2018
Trinity Repertory Company The exterior of the building has not changed greatly over the past 100 years since its opening in 1917. The facade features white terra cotta with light green and gold grapevine detailing. The large arched window at the center of the building’s front allows in light to both the upper and lower lobbies. The marquee in this image promotes Into the Breeches. Written by playwright George Brant, it takes place in Providence in 1942, the same time period as a previous image used in this tour. Source: Trinity Repertory Company Date: 2018

Location

201 Washington Street, Providence, RI

Metadata

Jennifer M. Wilson , “Trinity Repertory Company,” Rhode Tour, accessed December 2, 2022, https://rhodetour.org/items/show/387.