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.