A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a performance of the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra at the Zeiterion Theatre in New Bedford. I've long been familiar with the Z but I've never actually gone there. Occasionally I would hear about some event that would pique my interest but never quite enough to actually go. However the performance of the NBSO was family friendly, very affordable and not too long. It seemed to be a perfect holiday activity.
Now I really had no idea what to expect when driving to the Z. I was worried about parking. I was worried about how far away I might be since I was sitting in the "cheap seats". I had driven by the Zeiterion a few times before and thought that the building was so unremarkable that you could easily drive by it and never know there was theatre there.
As it turned out parking was a pleasure with the parking being located right next door and free that day! The Z itself was delightful. I couldn't after one brief visit due justice in describing but the lobby the elegant and the theatre itself charming, cozy, intimate. I may had had the worst seats in the place and they were still great seats.
As I sat and listened my eyes moved around the theatre taking in all the details. The orchestra sounded great and my ticket had cost me just $15. And while there were several available seats the turnout was really quite good. The Z can seat about 1,200 patrons and I would guess there were maybe 800 there for that performance.
Now, as it turns out I had placed to go and right after the show I headed back to Fall River but I definitely would go back. And honestly I could see looking for a some little nearby place to grab a bite to eat before or after the show and making more of a day of it.
The one thought that kept running through my head was why don't we have this sort of thing in Fall River?
Of course they almost didn't have that sort of thing in New Bedford either. The Zeiterion was slated to become a parking lot when local preservationists stepped in and saved it. With the help of a lot of state money the Zeiterion was restored to the jewel it is today. Tragically at around the same time this was all taking place, Fall River was losing some of its last remaining downtown theaters. The Center Theatre closing in the late 70's and apparently City Councilor Marilyn Roderick fought to save it. More crushing is the Academy closed in 1979. If any downtown theatre deserved to be saved and restored it has to be the Academy, which at that time had just recently celebrated its 100th birthday. The Center may or may not still exist somewhere in the building that occupies the site today. Some claim it's the same building just heavily remodeled others say it's a new structure entirely. The Academy would be saved at least its historical facade but all traces of its history as a performing arts center and movie house are gone forever.
Of course we now know that one theatre did survive, the Capitol. The Capitol is an amazing story because the theatre closed and became a bowling alley and then became a retail store and through it all this large cavernous space remained largely intact. And thankfully the people who currently own it really want to see it restored. But for some reason the big push just hasn't been there. Oh I realize that a tough economy hasn't helped but I'm convinced that for the Capitol to ever become a performing arts center it needs a big push with city backing
After finally taking in the Z I'm more convinced than ever that it would be tragedy if we don't find a way to bring back the Cap.