Just a few months after the city named Fiddlehead Theatre Company as the resident company at the Strand Theatre, Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh will soon make his own decisions about the future of the historic Dorchester venue.
“Nothing is off the table,’’ said Joyce Linehan, transition co-chair for the incoming administration. “The mayor-elect is committed to making sure that the Strand remains a significant contributor to the city arts community.”
Walsh grew up a few blocks from the theater in Uphams Corner. He launched his mayoral campaign and held his election eve rally at the former movie and vaudeville showplace that opened in 1918. The theater fell into disrepair after the movie house closed in 1969, and the city took it over in 1979. It leased the building for 25 years — at $1 a year — to the nonprofit M. Harriet McCormack Center for the Arts, which transformed it into a vibrant community and performing center during the 1980s and ’90s. The theater presented such acts as B.B. King and “STOMP,” established youth programs like the Strand Teen Players, and opened its doors to neighborhood groups.
But the theater was plagued by inactivity and mismanagement in the early 2000s, despite a $10 million investment in repairs and renovations by Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s administration. At its nadir, the theater was lit for 33 nights in the 2007-08 season. Since 2011, the Strand has seen more activity, with 205 days of rentals this year, including performances by Actors’ Shakespeare Project and Boston Baroque. In July, Menino’s administration touted the appointment of Fiddlehead as an anchor that would lure more performing arts groups to the theater, with the goal of drawing more customers to neighborhood restaurants and shops.
But the future of the theater is a work in progress for the new administration. “We are going to talk to stakeholders and explore many different possibilities,’’ Linehan said in a written statement last week. “We could look at having an existing nonprofit use it as home base and run it. We could revisit the model that saw so much success there in the ’80s.”
During the campaign, Walsh told The Dorchester Reporter that he planned to make the theater “viable” by partnering with a nonprofit similar to the M. Harriet McCormack Center.
What that means for Fiddlehead as resident company is unclear. The theater has booked two productions that have already been announced. “A Little Princess” opens on Nov. 21, and its production of “Aida” is set for the spring. The company did not sign a contract, but the city has guaranteed it performance dates for five years. Fiddlehead, which had no home after leaving Norwood in 2009, does not operate offices at the Strand, but its executive producer and artistic director, Meg Fofonoff, says she has been building partnerships with area nonprofits to develop teen programs that will take place off-site and culminate with performances at the Strand. “I just think the entire neighborhood and the Strand itself is just waiting to be brought back to life,” she said. “It is like the pumpkin turning into Cinderella’s carriage.’’
Christopher Cook, director of the city’s office of arts, tourism, and special events, said he expects Fiddlehead to remain in place “as long as it is a mutually beneficial relationship.”
Linehan said the Walsh administration is open to all ideas, including reviving the Strand Teen Players. “We are happy to talk to Fiddlehead, who has shown a commitment to the theater,’’ she said. “We are looking at everything.”
Patti Hartigan can be reached at email@example.com.