About the Cutler Majestic Theatre
A first-class performing home for many of New England's finest arts groups, the Cutler Majestic Theatre gives residents and visitors to greater Boston exceptional and unusual cultural and entertainment programs to attend all year-round.
The theater employs its relationships with opera, theater, dance, and music producers and presenters, as well as its own productions and presentations, to express the vision and values of Emerson—to explore and push the boundaries of communication, art, and culture and, thereby, to contribute to the advancement of society.
Productions may be classical or traditional in form, or may challenge culture, community, and technology. The Majestic is equipped with both historically appropriate stage systems and the most modern technologies for stage and video productions. That's why we say the Cutler Majestic Theatre is a 21st-century theater inside a 19th-century building.
The Majestic Theatre opened on February 16, 1903 with a performance of the jolly musical comedy The Storks. Eben Dyer Jordan commissioned architect John Galen Howard to design the Majestic, who was one of only 400 American architects trained at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in the late 1800s. Howard attended MIT before moving to Paris so his design of the Majestic combines plain old Yankee ingenuity with the classical perfection, Rococo decoration, functional quality, and pure visual fun taught at the Beaux Arts School. He used the newly invented electric light bulb to proclaim the theater's grandeur by accenting the tall columns, soaring arches, and stained glass of the facade. The pattern was repeated in the lobby and auditorium: 4,500 light bulbs in all.
While originally designed for opera and theater, the Majestic served many purposes through the years. Operated by the Shubert Organization, it converted to vaudeville in the 1920s. By the mid-1950s, movies had taken over the stage, with alterations that transformed the lobby and covered much of the Beaux Arts splendor. By 1983, when Emerson College purchased the Majestic, then called the Saxon, from Sack Theaters, it had fallen into severe decline. With patient and painstaking effort, Emerson College was able to bring the Majestic back to life and into compliance with modern building codes; it included new heating, air conditioning, plumbing and electrical systems, new stage floor and scenery, new dressing rooms, and wheelchair accessibility. The College completed the final phase of restoration in 2003 with the entire building restored to its original splendor.
This work has been so important to the Boston community that it has garnered two Boston magazine "Best of Boston" awards and the 1992 Historic Neighborhoods Foundation Award for enhancing and preserving the design and social heritage of the city of Boston. The theater is a member of the national League of Historic Theatres and is a Boston Historic Landmark. Former mayor Raymond Flynn proclaimed April 26, 1989 to be Emerson Majestic Theatre Day.
When Emerson College purchased the Majestic Theatre in 1983 it was showing X-rated films, had fallen into severe physical decline, and faced imminent demolition. The 1903 Beaux Arts opera house which the Boston Globe at its opening called “the most beautiful playhouse Boston has yet seen,” served as a metaphor for the derelict condition of Boston’s historic Theatre District.
Emerson’s visionary leaders understood that the success of its new theater hinged on the renewal of the neighborhood it anchored. In partnership with the City of Boston, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and neighborhood groups, Emerson spearheaded efforts to create special zoning for the district that preserved theaters and support spaces while encouraging sensitive mixed-use development.
Then Emerson took it a step further, and began a phased move of its entire campus to the neighborhood. It preserved and adapted historic buildings for dorms, classrooms, a library, and offices. Hundreds of students brought the streets to life. The neighbors saw the potential and responded by restoring the district’s historic theaters, restaurants, and hotels, and building new mixed-use developments. Over 20 years, Boston’s historic Theatre District came back to life so that today it is one of Boston’s bustling, energetic neighborhoods and a center of life downtown.
The Cutler Majestic has won many awards since its restoration, including:
- National Preservation Honor Awards 2004, National Trust for Historic Preservation
- Award for Outstanding Restoration Project 2004, League of Historic American Theatres
- Modernization Grand Prize winner, (2004) Buildings magazine June 2004 issue
- Section Award, (2004) Illuminating Engineering Society of North America
- Massachusetts Historical Commission Preservation Award (2003) for outstanding achievement
- Preservation Achievement Award, (2003) Significant Renovation/Restoration Preserving Boston’s Architectural or Cultural Heritage, Boston Preservation Alliance
- 37th Annual Preservation Award, (2009) The Victorian Society in America, New England Chapter
- Ted and Joan Cutler and Cutler Majestic Theatre Day in the City of Boston, proclamation by Boston City Council (October 30, 2003)
- Boston’s Best 2004, Improper Bostonian magazine
- Historic Preservation Award, (2001) Boston Society of Architects, to Emerson College for "exemplary standard of care for the Emerson Majestic Theatre and Little Building, and other historic properties.”
- Historic Neighborhoods Foundation Award (1992) for enhancing and preserving the design and social heritage of the City of Boston
- Emerson Majestic Theatre Day proclamation by Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn (April 26, 1989)
- Best of Boston award, (1989, 1992) Boston magazine
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