Newport Opera House Theater Renovation

(Rhode Island Monthly, By Jen McCaffery)

Go behind the scenes of this historic project in Washington Square.

Newport Opera House Theater and Performing Arts Center

There’s a science to acoustics, but there’s no guarantee that a venue is going to have it. “So when you have a building that has it, it’s a gem,” says Brenda Nienhouse, executive director of the Newport Opera House Theater and Performing Arts Center. The oldest surviving theater in Rhode Island has it. Originally built in 1867 to accompany the Perry House Hotel in Washington Square, the theater was remade into a single-screen cinema in 1929, with the elegance that can still be imagined when the layers of time are peeled away. With its beautiful proscenium, the stage played host to dances, political events, John Philip Sousa’s band, Duke Ellington, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Armelia Bloomer’s Suffragette Rally and more. Ownership eventually changed hands, and in the 1970s, the theater was divided up into a triplex with dubious carpeting. But now a $14 million effort — including a $4.2 million grant approved by Rhode Island voters — is underway to restore the Opera House to its former glory in time for its 150th anniversary in December 2017. “We’re really excited to see all of that come back,” Nienhouse says.

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