Running a small theatre isn’t easy, and Davis Square Theatre Director Damon Leibert has a lot on his plate: organizing shows, working with production companies and artists—and often, fielding phone calls from confused cinema fans.
“Other instances include people calling me several times a day for movie listings, or asking what kind of butter we use in our popcorn,” Leibert chuckles. He says that since taking over theatre operations in January 2015, there have been many mixups from people looking for the Somerville Theatre and finding the Davis Square Theatre instead. (Adding to the confusion: There used to be another Davis Square Theatre that was a movie theater back when Somerville had 14 different cinemas packed into its 4.2 square miles.) Even the addresses of the two buildings have been cause for chaos. The Somerville Theatre is located at 55 Davis Sq.; the Davis Square Theatre is 255 Elm St.
That’s just part of the reason that on September 12, the Davis Square Theatre will be reborn as The Rockwell.
Leibert suggested the name because Rockwell College was the school attended by the theatre’s owner, the late Ken Kelly, who passed away in December at age 44. According to Leibert, this was a formative period in Kelly’s life—the school was where he honed his work ethic and developed the tools and skills that shaped the person and businessman he would eventually become.
Confusion aside, the name change will also help solidify and unify the theater’s identity as a venue. Leibert explains that since it reopened in 2012, it’s largely been a “room for rent.” The performing arts venue offers everything from children’s programming to poetry readings to burlesque shows—which is obviously great—but means that the space has had a somewhat fractured identity. Whereas other venues like the Huntington Theatre produce a full season of their own shows, productions here come from different companies and individuals.
Because The Rockwell doesn’t cater to any one demographic, this will allow for more engagement between various productions. “Somebody that comes to see Shitfaced Shakespeare might not realize that there’s a world class comedian here next week, or perhaps a small opera company producing a really quirky, interesting show they might not have otherwise heard about,” Leibert notes. It’ll also help the theatre to produce more of their own shows—be it musical theater or comedy—anything that’s a good fit for the space and for Somerville.
And when it makes its mid-September debut, The Rockwell will continue to host local arts groups like the Actors Shakespeare Project and Theatre @ First. The Boston Comedy Festival will return to the theatre in November; Shitfaced Shakespeare isn’t going anywhere. They’ll still offer live music.
The Rockwell, Leibert explains, will honor Ken Kelly’s vision by continuing to offer diverse, mixed programming. The loyalty to the local arts community will continue; The Rockwell won’t become one of a host of venues that’s closed up shop “as people decide that they’d rather make condominiums than keep a half-century old music club.”
“[The Rockwell] exists for the community,” Leibert says, “meaning the community of not only residents and visitors that will want to come see a show, but also the community of artists that will be able to produce shows at a smaller level, in a space that’s affordable to them.”