That was the initial paragraph of an article announcing the opening of the venue that was to become the Publick Theatre. Before the play began, best wishes from, Queen Elizabeth II were read. Ten weeks of performances were scheduled for the newly built, 1800 seat theatre on the banks of the Charles River. Marilyn Monroe, Arthur Miller, Margaret Leighton, Siobhan McKenna, and John Gielgud either performed there, or were seen in attendance. Sadly the ambitious plans for an arts center to rival that of Great Britain was destroyed by a Hurricane and the facilities fell into disuse. The Christian Herter Center, now an archival storage depository, and the outdoor amphitheatre where the Publick operates are the only reminders of Boston’s most ambitious civic art project.
In 1971 The Publick Theatre’s founder and first Artistic Director, Donato Colucci approached the MDC (now the Department of Conservation and Recreation) to establish a classical outdoor theatre in Christian Herter Park in emulation of New York’s Shakespeare Festival in Central Park. Colucci sought to make the “Publick” Theatre, Boston’s answer to New York’s “Public” Theatre. In September of 2000, in the midst of its 30th season, an electrical fire tore through the offices and dressing rooms of the outdoor performance space. The Board of Directors and The Publick Theatre’s second Artistic Director, Spiro Veloudos, resigned, handing custody of the theatre company to an actor/director employed there at the time. In September of 2000, after the close of its 30th season, an electrical fire tore through the offices and dressing rooms of the outdoor performance space. The Board of Directors and The Publick Theatre’s second Artistic Director, Spiro Veloudos, resigned, handing custody of the theatre company to an actor/director employed there at the time. Diego Arciniegas - also a Lecturer in Theatre Studies at Wellesley College and director of that season’s Macbeth, became the third Artistic Director of The Publick Theatre. Working in tandem with current Producing Director Susanne Nitter, the new administrators saved the theatre from closing its doors. Drawing on 15 years of experience as theatre artists, Arciniegas and Nitter assembled an artistic staff comprised of the best and the brightest talent with whom they'd worked.
Insistent that Shakespeare was popular in his own day, a climate far less hospitable to theatre than today, Arciniegas sought to demonstrate the accessibility of the classics to everybody in a relaxed outdoor setting. The result has been a significant increase in attendance and ticket revenue and an elevated profile in the media. The theatre was hailed as a “Phoenix rising from the ashes”. In 2001 Ellen Pfeiffer of the Boston Globe wrote; “Arciniegas has just the right touch, the ability to make Shakespeare speak to modern audiences in all the poet’s elevated/lowbrow, witty/poignant, poetic/conversational complexity.” In a separate article, Ed Siegel, then Arts Editor for the Globe, compared The Publick Theatre favorably to arts organizations with budgets four times its size. “I think the reason for our success is that we’ve stopped trying to be Boston’s answer to somewhere else”, says Arciniegas, “First the theatre was trying to be Boston’s answer to the South Bank in Britain, then to the New York Shakespeare Festival. I think the theatre has found its own voice and has become something quintessentially Bostonian”.
In the ensuing seven years, the Publick has experienced a renaissance, with critical acclaim for many of its productions, including the prestigious Eliot Norton Award for Outstanding Production for Arcadia by Tom Stoppard in 2005. The theatre has expanded its repertory, including contemporary plays. Last year the theatre performed Michael Frayn's Tony Award winning, Copenhagen, and Amy Freed's The Beard of Avon. The theatre also ventured indoors for the winter, performing Noel Coward's "Design for Living" at the Boston Center for the Arts. This coming season the theatre will bring George Bernard Shaw into the mix with Misalliance, which will perform in repertory with Romeo and Juliet all summer long..