BOSTON (CBS) – They say theaters never go dark. If you walk past the Wang, you’ll see why. Above the boarded-up windows and doors, the marquee shines a path on a rainy Friday night.
“We’re trying to show people that we’ll be back. And it’s just a matter of time that the lights are on,” said Joe Spaulding, longtime president and CEO of the Boch Center.
This week, an exhibit of pictures debuted outside the Tremont Street theater. Since fans can’t come inside, instead of flashing upcoming attractions, the display, which runs until December 1, celebrates the theater’s 95-year-history. The landmark reached the milestone last month.
“Millions and millions of people have gone through that building since 1925 seeing all kinds of performances,” Spaulding said. “It’s one of the most iconic theaters in the world. You could never duplicate this place.”
The world-class venue, and performing arts institution, celebrated for its connection to vaudeville musicals and big bands, also witnessed the rise of legendary Rock & Roll musicians.
Back when it was the Boston Music Hall, scores of great acts played the stage. To honor that, the Boch Center partnered with acclaimed photographer Ron Pownall to showcase some of his iconic images from the 70s. The exhibit includes shots of the second time ever Queen performed “Bohemian Rhapsody” on U.S. soil, Aerosmith’s 1974 “Get Your Wings” tour, and moments from Bruce Springsteen’s first “Born to Run” tour.
“He was just so great to photograph,” said Pownall from his Chelsea home. “He was pouring everything into every show. It’s like this is what Rock and Roll is all about. Playing for three hours, four hours sometimes, everyone being sweaty, standing on chairs, Bruce brought that. There are some lovely images of Bruce that I think people will enjoy seeing.”
The pandemic shut the Wang’s doors back in March. Spaulding says he’s since had to lay off nearly 300 members of his staff. He doesn’t expect the venue will open its doors until possibly next fall. According to National Independent Venue Foundation, a trade association of roughly 3,500 independent music venues, without federal support, 90% of venues are at risk of going under.
“You’re seeing it happening in our great city, Great Scott is an example. There are others that are an example, they’ve shut down. Unfortunately, as you and I are speaking right now we’re boarded up again. I think it’s been really hard on everybody. We’re down to 15 full time staff that’s it,” said Spaulding. “Come hell or high water we’re going to figure out how to survive and open our doors again.”
The exhibit is one of two initiatives the Boch Center is hoping will help keep the spirit of the art community alive. They’re also trying to raise some money by streaming performances on YouTube and local cable.
The “Ghost Light” series gives artists an outlet to perform, even if the theater is empty, and gives way to patrons and fans buying seats virtually.
“I think that it goes to show that the arts keeps us a civilized society. It allows to communicate, and music and arts do that,” Spaulding said. “It makes people feel good and it makes people think about life in that way. And boy do we need that today and we can’t do it.”